Gallbladder

Overview

What is the gallbladder?

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that stores and releases bile. Bile is the fluid your liver produces that helps digest fats in the food you eat.

Where is the gallbladder located?

Your gallbladder is located in the upper right part of your abdomen (belly). It sits just under your liver.

Function

What is the function of the gallbladder?

Your gallbladder is part of your digestive system. Its main function is to store bile. Bile helps your digestive system break down fats. Bile is a mixture of mainly cholesterol, bilirubin and bile salts.

How does the gallbladder help other organs?

Your gallbladder is connected to other parts of your digestive system through a series of bile ducts called the biliary tract. The biliary tract (sometimes called biliary system or biliary tree) is a pipe-like system that carries bile from your liver to your small intestine.

What does the gallbladder do?

Before you start eating, your gallbladder is full of bile. When you start eating, your gallbladder receives signals to contract and squeeze the stored bile through the biliary tract. The bile eventually finds its way to your largest bile duct, the common bile duct. Bile passes through the common bile duct into the duodenum, the first part of your small intestine, where it mixes with food waiting to be digested. After you eat, your gallbladder is empty and resembles a deflated balloon, waiting to be filled up again.

Conditions and Disorders

What are common issues that affect the gallbladder?

Several conditions can cause problems in your gallbladder. The most common condition is gallstones. Gallstones are typically harmless but can sometimes lead to disease states. Gallbladder issues include:

  • Gallstones: Gallstones are pebble-like objects made of bile material that develop in the gallbladder or bile ducts. They can be as tiny as grains of sand to as large as golf balls. They’re usually harmless but can cause pain, nausea or inflammation.
  • Cholecystitis: Cholecystitis is inflammation of your gallbladder. It can occur when a gallstone blocks bile from exiting your gallbladder. Cholecystitis causes fever and pain and usually requires surgery.
  • Gallstone pancreatitis: Gallstone pancreatitis is inflammation of your pancreas. It occurs when a gallstone travels down the common bile duct and blocks the pancreatic duct at a common point just before draining into the small intestine.
  • Gallbladder cancer: Gallbladder cancer is rare. You might feel pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. But, it is far more likely for this pain to occur due to another condition.

What are the signs or symptoms of gallbladder problems?

The symptoms of gallbladder problems vary. Some people don’t feel gallstones or even know they have them. But if gallstones block the flow of bile, they can affect your gallbladder or pancreas. You may experience the following symptoms:

How are gallbladder issues treated?

Most gallbladder issues are treated with the removal of your gallbladder. Surgery to remove your gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy. Your gallbladder is not an essential organ. This means you can live a normal life without a gallbladder. When a surgeon removes your gallbladder, bile will flow out of your bile ducts directly into your digestive system instead of being stored in your gallbladder first.

Surgeons can perform cholecystectomies three ways:

  • Open cholecystectomy: With open surgery, your surgeon operates through one large incision. Your surgeon may perform an open cholecystectomy if your gallbladder is severely inflamed or scarred.
  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy: With laparoscopic surgery, your surgeon operates through a few small incisions. Laparoscopic surgery generally leads to a faster recovery, less pain and smaller scars. In most cases, cholecystectomies will be performed laparoscopically.
  • Robotic cholecystectomy: This is a more recent method and is available in a small number of centers.

Care

Does my weight affect my chances for gallstones?

People who are overweight — especially women — are more likely to develop gallstones. This is because people who are overweight may have more cholesterol in their bile. More cholesterol in your bile can cause gallstones. People who are overweight may also have bigger gallbladders that don’t work as well. Losing weight too quickly may raise your chances of forming gallstones as well. But slowly losing weight may help you prevent them.

How will my diet change after gallbladder surgery?

Your gallbladder was not essential, but it did help you digest fatty foods. Immediately after gallbladder removal, you’ll want to avoid fried and greasy foods.

After surgery, fat calories should make up no more than 30% of your diet. Take your time reintroducing high-fiber foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables. They may cause severe bloating and gas if you eat them too quickly.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in your upper right abdomen. Your gallbladder stores and releases bile to help your digestive system break down fats. The most common issue you may develop with your gallbladder is gallstones. Gallstones are pebble-like objects made from bile material. Most people don’t even know they have them, and most of the time they will not cause a problem. If you have upper right abdomen pain after eating fatty meals, nausea, vomiting, jaundice or fever, talk to your healthcare provider. If your gallbladder is found to be the culprit, you may need your gallbladder removed, which is OK — it’s not an essential organ, and removing it may make you feel better.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/28/2021.

References

  • Merck Manual. Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/liver-and-gallbladder-disorders/gallbladder-and-bile-duct-disorders/overview-of-gallbladder-and-bile-duct-disorders) Accessed 9/14/2021.
  • MedlinePlus. Gallbladder Diseases. (https://medlineplus.gov/gallbladderdiseases.html) Accessed 9/14/2021.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Gallstones (https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones) .Accessed 9/14/2021.
  • StatPearls. Physiology, Gallbladder. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482488/) Accessed 9/14/2021.

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