About 20 million Americans have gallbladder disease, and each year, more than a third of those — about 700,000 — have their gallbladders removed as a result of their disease. Although gallbladder disease is more common after age 40, it can occur at any age.
At South Florida Surgical Group, Michael Renfrow, MD, FACS, and Steven Kanter, MD, FACS, treat gallbladder disease using an advanced, patient-centered approach for optimal outcomes. Understanding what causes gallbladder disease and learning to identify its symptoms can help ensure you get the treatment you need as soon as possible.
Gallbladder disease: The basics
Your gallbladder is a small organ shaped like a pear and located near your liver. Its primary function is to store and release bile, a digestive juice produced by the liver. Your gallbladder has an opening, or duct, that releases bile as needed.
In gallbladder disease, the gallbladder becomes inflamed and stops working the way it’s supposed to. Most people think gallbladder disease only occurs as a result of gallstones that form inside the gallbladder and wind up blocking the duct. But while gallstones are a major cause of gallbladder problems, they’re not the only cause.
Sometimes, the gallbladder becomes inflamed even without gallstones being present. This condition is called acalculous gallbladder disease, and it tends to occur after an injury, illness, or surgery, or as a “side effect” of an autoimmune disease, like lupus.
Biliary dyskinesia is another relatively common cause of gallbladder problems. In this condition, the gallbladder slows down and stops working the way it should. As with acalculous gallbladder disease, many people with biliary dyskinesia don’t have any gallstones, either.
There are lots of risk factors for gallbladder disease. The most common include:
- Being overweight
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Eating a diet high in fats or low in fiber
- Having a family history of gallstones
- Having a personal history of liver disease
- Being over age 40
- Taking estrogen medications, including contraceptives
Women are more likely to have gallbladder disease than men, and it’s also more common among Native Americans and Hispanics.
5 common signs
Gallbladder symptoms can vary, depending on how far the disease has progressed. These are the five most common signs to watch out for.
#1: Belly or back pain
One of the most common signs of gallbladder disease is sharp or continual pain in the upper right part of your belly or near your belly button. Some people experience sharp pain in the back, near their shoulder blades.
Nausea with or without vomiting is a fairly common sign of gallbladder disease, especially when the disease is chronic (persists for a long time). Some people may also have indigestion or acid reflux.
Gallbladder disease can have a direct effect on the digestive process. Many people with chronic disease find they have diarrhea, especially following meals, or they may have many bowel movements in a single day.
#4: Yellow skin or eyes
Bile contains a yellow pigment called bilirubin. If your bile duct is blocked by a gallstone, bile can’t be released into the small intestine. Instead, it backs up in your bloodstream, causing your skin and the whites of your eyes to appear yellowish. This condition is called jaundice.
#5: Changes in stool or urine
A blocked bile duct can also cause changes in the appearance of your urine or your bowel movements. People with a blocked bile duct may have dark urine or stools that are light or clay-colored.
Don’t ignore your symptoms
Located in the Kendall neighborhood of Miami, Florida, South Florida Surgical Group is dedicated to providing the most advanced care for gallbladder disease. If you’re having any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. Call our office at 305-279-9522, or book an appointment online, so we can make sure you get timely and effective care.