(image thanks to hepatitiscnewdrugs.blogspot.com)
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea or abdominal pain often wonder if they have a problem with their gallbladder.
Problems with the gallbladder can indeed cause these symptoms. However, many people find that having their gallbladder removed did little or nothing to help their IBS, or even made it worse.
What does the gallbladder do?
The gallbladder does exactly what its name describes; it is a small bladder that stores gall. Gall is more commonly known as bile. Bile is produced by the liver and piped over to the gallbladder via the bile duct.
What is bile?
Bile is a highly concentrated yellow green fluid that contains bile acids. Bile acids are important for digesting fats. When you eat, your gallbladder contracts and secretes bile into the small intestine to help you digest your food. If your gallbladder has been removed then it will be more difficult for you to digest fats. In such cases, eating too much fat may cause loose stools.
When does that gallbladder need to be removed?
In some people, stones develop inside of the gallbladder. These stones, when small, can become lodged in the bile duct, which can cause severe pain and be very dangerous if they also clog the pancreatic duct. Larger stones are not able to pass into the bile duct, but their presence can cause severe pain. Sometimes this is worse when the gallbladder is contracting. In either case, removing the gallbladder usually relieves the pain and you feel much better.
When is it questionable to remove the gallbladder?
It is often tempting for physicians to blame the gallbladder for abdominal pain and digestive problems even when there is little or no evidence that the gallbladder is the culprit. It’s a relatively simple procedure, and most people don’t miss it too much. If stones are present, then the decision is easy to make.
However, in some cases it is recommended that the gallbladder be removed even when stones are not apparent on any exams. The recommendation is based primarily on symptoms and a lack of any other visible problem. Gallbladder function tests also may indicate that the gallbladder is not functioning at 100%. However, that does not mean that it is the cause of the problem. If the gallbladder is only functioning at a small percentage of normal, removing it will only guarantee that it will not function at all.
Many patients have been to the IBS Treatment Center after already having their gallbladder removed and report that it made no difference in how they felt. Others have reported that it helped some, but certainly did not solve all of their digestive problems.
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.