The gallbladder is a storage organ for bile which is produced by the liver. Bile helps in the digestion of fats in the intestines. During fasting, the gallbladder receives bile from the liver and concentrates this bile. When a fatty meal is consumed, this concentrated bile is released into the intestines to help in fat digestion and absorption. The most common disease affecting the gallbladder is the formation of stones in the gallbladder. There are 3 types of gallstones, namely cholesterol stones, pigment stones and mixed stones.
Cholesterol stones form as result of excessive amount of cholesterol in bile. Pigment stones form as result of breakdown in the red blood cells in the body. The presence of stones in the gallbladder affects the normal functions of the gallbladder, resulting in feeling of indigestion after food intake. Prolonged low grade infection of the gallbladder can occur due to the gallstone. Large gallbladder stones can block the opening of the gallbladder. Smaller gallbladder stones can migrate out the gallbladder and block the bile duct, causing several symptoms and complications.
A simple ultrasound of the gallbladder can detect the presence of stones. This is a very simple test that can be done in less than 10 minutes with high accuracy. It is non-invasive and does not involve the use of radiation. CT scan of the abdomen is performed when there is a suspicion of complications involving the gallbladder like infection and perforation. As this test requires injection of drugs into the body which can result in allergic reaction and kidney dysfunction in rare occasions, CT scan is reserved for gallbladder complications.
No treatment is need for patient with gallbladder stones and has no symptoms at all. Drugs (oral dissolution therapy) are seldom use to dissolve gallbladder stones are these drugs need to be taken for many years to be effective. Gallbladder stones tend to form again in majority of patients after stopping of these medications. The use of strong sound waves (lithotripsy) to break down the gallbladder stones is rarely performed as it associated with many problems when the smaller fragmented stones migrate down the bile duct. The standard treatment for symptomatic gallstones is the surgical removal of the gallbladder. This is relatively straight forward procedure if there is no complication of gallstones like gallbladder infection.