It is no surprise that your body is a complex system of organ networks that work like clockwork to perform an essential role in each area such as digesting the food you eat. However, your gall bladder is less likely to be noticed until it causes a real problem and has to be removed.
We ask Dr. Melissa Teo, general surgeon and surgical oncologist from The Surgical Oncology Clinic, about a few common disorders surrounding the organ such as why gall bladder removal is increasingly common and if we can survive if it is removed.
Digestion means breaking down food into components that get smaller and smaller which are then absorbed and assimilated into the body. The gall bladder is a pear-shaped organ in the gastrointestinal tract situated beneath your liver. It is approximately three to four inches long and an inch across, with a capacity to hold around 50 milliliters of bile, a dark green-colored fluid released by the liver.
While digestion does involve the gall bladder, according to Dr. Teo, it is not an essential organ because it acts like a sac-like storage organ for bile.
“Your gall bladder acts as a ‘warehouse’ for bile but does not produce it. Bile is produced in the liver. Whenever you eat, the gall bladder contracts and expels concentrated bile from the gall bladder to aid with the digestion of fat. If your gall bladder is removed, bile from the liver would drip directly into the intestinal tract and still aid in the digestion of fats. So you can technically function without this storage facility,” she says.
On the other hand, your gall bladder can be predisposed to several disorders, like the formation of solid deposits called gallstones.
“Most of the time, gallstones, is a condition seen more commonly among older adults. But this is not to say that younger adults are immune to it,” Dr. Teo said.
She says that gallstones can develop in adults as young as in their 20s. And can be the cause of abdominal pain that typically occurs after eating and can remain for hours thereafter. Because of this assumption, Dr. Teo added that it can also be mistaken for another common illness.
“You may have been told that gastritis is the cause of your frequent pain in your upper abdominal area after you eat because you are only in your 20s or 30s. But sometimes, it may be gallstones and the pain experienced is known as biliary colic,” elaborated Dr. Teo.
Gallstones are not easy to spot either. An ultrasound scan is generally a better modality to detect gallstones. Hence, if a CT scan is done for abdominal pain, this diagnosis can be missed.
“Gall stones can cause the yellowing of the eyes, otherwise known as jaundice. This occurs when a gall stone from the gall bladder and drops into the main liver or bile duct and causes an obstruction there.”
But it is not just gallstones. There are other conditions that originate from the organ such as an infection of the gallbladder, otherwise known as acute cholecystitis. In this condition, the upper abdominal pain is typically associated with fever and can be unrelenting, even when one abstains from eating. Gallstones can also be the cause of pancreatitis, a condition that signifies an inflammation of the pancreas.
This leads us to the next question: Does removing the gall bladder help?
“Suggesting its removal can be a shocking piece of news to you because you generally believe that every organ is a vital part. And one may be even more surprised when the doctor explains you can survive well post-surgery. Sometimes even better than before because the troubling pains you kept having are now completely gone,” Dr. Teo added.
And as Dr. Teo says, removing it does not necessarily mean a total dietary change is needed either.
“Your digestive tract would still be able to digest the fat that’s consumed fairly well. Of course, if you take a very high fat meal, you might have diarrhea. Most patients will not notice a difference in their digestion after surgery, especially if one consumes a fairly moderate diet. In any case, one should not be having a high fat diet!” she quips.