We’ll begin with the basic anatomy. The gallbladder is a small pouch that is located just under the liver. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver. With each meal your gallbladder responds to a signal from your stomach by squeezing bile out and through a duct and into the intestine. Bile helps digest fats, but the gallbladder itself is not essential. Removing the gallbladder from healthy patients usually causes no problems with health or digestion, but there may be a small risk of diarrhea and fat malabsorption.

For unclear reasons, sometimes bile will crystallize and form stones in the gallbladder called gallstones. In the United States, 6-9% of the population have gallstones. Most people with gallstones do not have symptoms. The recommended treatment of patients with gallstones depends upon the patient’s symptoms. The combination of symptoms that gallstones can cause are referred to as biliary colic which can include intense, dull discomfort located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen that may radiate to the right-side back, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms are most commonly noticed within one hour of eating and especially after fatty or fried foods.

If these symptoms are persistent or complications arise, your doctor may recommend having your blood drawn for testing and/or imaging studies such as abdominal ultrasound, HIDA scan, or MRCP. We’ll explore each of these:

Abdominal ultrasound is a noninvasive test in which a probe and jelly are used on the skin to view internal structures and ultrasound is an excellent test to look for gallstones and to view the gallbladder wall in a painless way.

A different imaging study that views the excretory function of the gallbladder is the HIDA scan. HIDA scan is a nuclear medicine test, in which radioactive dye is injected intravenously and is secreted into the bile. From this the doctor can study the ejection fraction of the gallbladder.

The third kind of imaging study that may be ordered for you if you have symptoms of a gallstone obstruction the common bile duct is MRCP. During an MRCP an MRI scanner provides high-resolution images of the bile ducts, pancreas, and gallbladder. 

Some other diseases related to the gallbladder are infection, gallstone pancreatitis, and gallbladder cancer. Gallbladder infection is referred to as cholecystitis and is most commonly treated with antibiotics and surgical removal of the gallbladder, called cholecystectomy. Gallstone pancreatitis occurs when gallstones become lodged in the common bile duct, which also connects to the pancreatic duct, and the pancreas becomes inflamed. Gallbladder cancer is rare and is treated with surgical cholecystectomy. If you have any of the above conditions your surgeon may recommend cholecystectomy as it is a safe, and effective treatment for these conditions.

Here at Glacier Surgical, both Dr. Gulley and Dr. Zeznock are skilled at performing cholecystectomies laparoscopically and robotically using the Davinci Robot. Robot assisted surgery minimizes complications and is minimally invasize. With this technology and these techniques only a few small incisions are made and the patient typically will return home the same day. Most patients require just a few days off work. Post-operative recommendations include no lifting over 10lbs for 6 weeks, as the incisions heal, and to avoid fatty or fried food for a few weeks.

If you have concerns about your gallbladder, call or book an appointment directly with Glacier Surgical. You do not need a referral from another physician.  

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