As an organ that does not perform any function for the human body, the gallbladder tends to be left out. It is only when complications arise, such as the formation of stones, that her existence is remembered.
Located below the left portion of the liver, the gallbladder is shaped like a pear. It has the function of storing bile, a liquid produced by the liver that helps in the digestion of fats and which is formed by several substances, among them cholesterol, one of the main responsible for the formation of gallstones, as gallstones are called.
In some cases, these structures do not cause symptoms, being discovered only through routine examinations. In other people, they cause severe pain in the right side of the abdomen that radiates to the top of the chest and gets worse about half an hour after a meal.
According to digestive system surgeon Gustavo Patury, from the Albert Einstein hospital in São Paulo, the discomfort can also be accompanied by fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. “Sometimes reflux and bloating may appear after a meal rich in fat and, in the most severe cases, fever and jaundice (yellow skin, dark urine and whitish stools)”, he adds.
Risk factors and complications
The presence of symptoms is a sign of complications. An example is the so-called acute cholecystitis, which occurs when the stone blocks the duct through which bile comes out, leading to inflammation in the region and in the peritoneum, the tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen. There may also be perforations in the small intestine or colon, causing bleeding and infections.
Other complications are choledocholithiasis, which happens when stones are in the duct that carries bile, and inflammation in the bile ducts. However, the most serious condition is pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can lead to death.
There is no specific cause for gallbladder problems. But, the specialist points out that some conditions, called “5 F’s”, in English, can favor the development of gallstones. They are: female (women), family (family history/genetic predisposition), fat (overweight and obesity), fertility (fertile age) and forty (40 years or older).
“A diet rich in fat and low in fiber, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, in addition to prolonged use of contraceptives can also influence the appearance of stones”, adds Patury.
Treatments and prevention
Faced with the possibility of the calculations evolving into more serious problems, it is recommended that the gallbladder be removed. Individuals who have the stones and are not operated on have a 30 to 50% risk of having a complication, which forces them to have an emergency operation.
“Because of the risks that can be generated with the presence of gallstones, we remove the entire gallbladder surgically, even when there are no symptoms”, says Patury.
In addition to surgical removal, the use of medications to make the bile thinner can help in some cases, however, the doctor points out that they do not solve the problem permanently.
To prevent gallbladder complications, he recommends a healthy lifestyle. “As we know that overweight and obesity are risk factors, the ideal is to have a diet rich in fiber, low in fat and processed foods, as well as the regular practice of physical activity”, he indicates.
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