The gallbladder is an organ that concentrates and stores bile made by the liver. Bile is used to help absorb fat and certain types of vitamins.
When you eat, there is a chemical (or hormone) in the blood that goes to the gallbladder. This chemical tells the gallbladder to contract and empty it's bile into the intestines. For some reason in some adults, the gallbladder doesn't function properly and the bile isn't concentrated appropriately. When this happens "sand" or even stones form. This material doesn't easily empty from the gallbladder when the chemical signal is sent and the gallbladder is supposed to contract. The sand or stones "clog" up the drainage tube of the gallbladder and thus symptoms occur. Usual symptoms can include upper mid-abdominal pain, upper right abdominal pain, pain going to the upper right back. Lower mid-line chest pain can also occur. Other symptoms can include abdominal bloating, or a gassy feeling, right shoulder pain, nausea, vomiting and fever in some cases. the symptoms are frequently brought on by foods high in fat content.
Evaluation for gallbladder problems usually include a complete history and physical examination. In addition, a gallbladder ultrasound is an important imaging test that looks for stones or sand in the gallbladder or abnormalities in the wall of the gallbladder. Sometimes the sand in the gallbladder is too small to be seen but you can still have symptoms.
A HIDA scan can also be ordered which evaluates the function of the gallbladder (how it empties). The gallbladder will not empty properly if there is a problem with the bile inside.
Sometimes the stones empty with the bile into a main bile duct which leads to the intestines. This causes similar symptoms but usually worse and turning yellow or jaundice can occur as well. When this type of problem occurs, a special type of endoscopy "light scope test" may need to be ordered. this is called an ERCP. During this special endoscopy, an x-ray of the bile duct is performed and any stones in the main bile duct can usually be retrieved and removed.
Finally, if your gallbladder has caused symptoms, removing it would be recommended. This is usually done laparoscopically (surgery using tiny incisions and a special camera). This is considered an outpatient surgery. Most people go home the same day.
After surgery, your pain should be minimal and a return to normal activity can occur as tolerated. There are no real weight lifting restrictions once the incisional pain subsides. After your gallbladder is removed, your liver and main bile duct will supply the bile to the intestines for help in the absorption of food.