Gallbladder and gallstones

GLENN ELLIS | 4/10/2017, 2:26 a.m.
In the United States, about a million new cases are diagnosed each year, and some 800,000 operations are performed to ...

Strategies for Well-Being

In the United States, about a million new cases are diagnosed each year, and some 800,000 operations are performed to treat gallstones, making gallstone disease the most common gastrointestinal disorder requiring hospitalization.

Some people think of their gallbladder as being “expendable.” Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think anybody wants any of their organs to be removed. But since many people live a seemingly normal life after getting their gallbladder removed, many people don’t think their gallbladder plays an important role in their overall health. After all, how important can your gallbladder be if you can do just fine after it’s surgically removed? The gallbladder actually plays a very important role in your body. Some people consider the gallbladder as an “unimportant” organ. In reality, it is an essential part of the digestive system. Why we have a gall bladder at all is something of a mystery. Many animals such as horses, pigeons and rats manage quite well without one.

One of the biggest digestive problems that can quickly turn a great meal into a period of misery is gallstones or gallbladder disease.

The gallbladder is located near the liver. It stores bile, which aids in the digestion of fats. When a person eats, bile is released from the gallbladder to the intestine to aid in the breakdown of fats.

Gallstone disease is the most common disorder affecting the body’s biliary system, the network of organs and ducts that create, transport, store and release bile. Bile is a thick fluid made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder that which acts in the small intestine to digest fat. Bile contains cholesterol, water, proteins, bilirubin (a breakdown product from blood cells), bile salts (the chemicals necessary to digest fat) and small amounts of copper or other materials. If the chemical balance of bile contains too much of any of these components, particularly of cholesterol, crystals form and can harden into stones.

Bile is stored in the gallbladder and is concentrated up to five times by the removal of water. This concentrated bile is essential for the complete digestion of fats. One big problem with gallbladder surgery is that the body has nowhere to store bile until it is needed. Therefore, it just drips continually. And when a large amount is needed to digest a meal with a lot of fat, there is not enough bile added to digest it properly.

Gallstones form when liquid stored in the gallbladder hardens into pieces of stone-like material. Bile contains water, cholesterol, bilirubin and other substances. Ideally, these minerals remain in liquid form until they are passed out of the body. However, excessive amounts of these minerals in bile can cause them to crystallize.

These small crystals that precipitate out of the saturated bile may begin to clump together. Any existing crystal makes it easier for other crystals to form. If they stay in the gallbladder too long, the crystals gradually grow larger until they become a gallstone so large that it cannot pass through the biliary ducts.