Do you know where your gallbladder is and what it does? No? Then you’re not alone.
Most of us have heard of people suffering from gallstones or problems with their gallbladder but unless you remember your biology you may not remember details of what it is and why we need it.
The digestive system is one of the first lines of defence for our health as a whole. Our bowel function is vital to our bodily health, and it is believed that all health problems in the body start from the digestive system.
So there’s your first clue, the gallbladder is a key player in our digestive system.
So where is it and what does it do? Here’s a diagram showing the key players in the whole of the digestive system showing the exact location.
The gallbladder is quite small in comparison to the other parts of the digestive system, and it is a pouch like organ found under the liver.
The main function of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile which is produced by the liver.
What is bile you ask. Bile is a digestive liquid produced by the liver to help digest fats. The liver makes the bile and it travels to the gallbladder via bile ducts (small tubes).
The bile is released from the gallbladder as and when it’s needed during the digestive process.
This all sounds so simple and easy, so why the problems with it and what are these issues.
This is probably the most commonly known about gallbladder issue, in fact about 1 in every 10 adults in the UK has gallstones (from NHS website) but not all of these people get symptoms from it. The medical world thinks that gallstones form due to an imbalance in the chemical makeup of the bile. From examination it would seem that the cholesterol levels may become too high, and the excess is formed into stones.
According the NHS website you are most at risk of developing gallstones if you fall into the following categories:
- Female – women are 2 to 3 times more likely to get gallstones then men are
- Aged 40 or over – and the risk increases as you get older
- Women who have been pregnant – it’s possibly due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy which increase cholesterol levels.
- People with cirrhosis
- People with digestive disorders such as IBS, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis
- Family history of gallstones
- Sudden weight loss – from dieting or surgery
- From the antibiotic ceftriaxone
- Oral contraceptive pill or high dose oestrogen therapy
Most people don’t get any symptoms of the gallstones, but if one of these stones blocks one of the bile ducts it can create immense pain. It depends on the severity of the blockage as to the symptoms felt.
Biliary colic is the most common symptom, which is abdominal pain felt in the centre of the abdomen or under the ribs on the right hand side. This pain is constant and doesn’t go away from being sick or going to the toilet.
If the symptoms are more severe it can be due to the bile ducts being blocked for a long time. This can include a very high temperature, persistent pain (rather than intermittent as above), yellowing of the skin and eyes, itchy skin, diarrhoea and loss of appetite.
One of the most serious concerns is if the blockage becomes permanent or it moves to another part of the digestive system. If the gallbladder becomes inflamed and infected it is called acute cholecystitis, and this can lead to jaundice. The way to treat this initially is with antibiotics then surgery.
If you suffer from any of the above it’s best to visit the GP and get a proper diagnosis. They will probably do a physical exam of the abdomen and request blood tests. After this an ultrasound may be done. Some even have MRI scans or a CT scan done.
The doctors will then decide the best path of treatment. This could be medication to dissolve the stones or it may lead to surgery, which can now be done easily via keyhole surgery.
Prevention of gallstones
Healthy eating (not sudden dieting or weight loss) and exercise seem to the key forms of advice for prevention of gallstones.
© Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD gives this following advice:
People can have gallstones without knowing it but if one becomes trapped they can cause horrific pain. There is plenty that you can do to prevent them forming – here are 10 simple tips.
1. Avoid sugar and products containing sugar. People who consume excessive amounts of sugar are more likely to form gallstones
2. Avoid all animal fat and meat, saturated fats (found primarily in meat), full-fat dairy products, fried foods, spicy foods, margarine, soft drinks, chocolate, and refined carbohydrates
3. Steer clear of oxylate-rich foods. Oxylates are chemical compounds that are found in most kidney stones. Foods high in oxylates include beer, chocolate, spinach and rhubarb
4. Avoid salt as high salt diets are linked with an increased risk of kidney stones
5. Include gallbladder friendly foods such as beetroot, artichoke, chicory and radish into meals. These help your gallbladder to function well
6. Introduce lecithin granules into the diet on a daily basis to help to deal with any fats in the diet
7. Get plenty of soluble fibre in your diet including the nutrient dense oats, flaxseed and plenty of leafy greens. These prevent constipation which is linked to an increased risk of gallstones
8. Drink at least 1.5 litres of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids a day
9. Juice carrot, beetroot and cucumber all of which can help to support gall-bladder function
10. Include digestive enzymes and good bacteria in your diet. They can be really useful to support your digestive system
© Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD