Most people nowadays neglect their gallbladder unless it starts showing symptoms of impairment. Certain factors like age, gender, genes, and ethnicity together with modifiable risk factors such as eating high-fat and high-cholesterol foods, living a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and conditions such as diabetes, liver cirrhosis, and other metabolic syndrome predispose an individual to suffer from gallbladder problems.
Such problems require early assessment and fast and immediate intervention to prevent fatal consequences.
As mentioned, people tend to ignore the symptoms until they experience any of the following gallbladder problems that are commonly experienced by a lot of individuals:
1. Cholelithiasis or Gallstones
Cholelithiasis refers to the formation of gallstones which are hardened deposits of cholesterol, bilirubin, or mixed stones. It’s considered the most common gallbladder problem in the world, with around 20 million Americans suffering from the condition.
This condition occurs when high levels of bile and fat causes crystals to form. These are then combined and deposited into stones that could be as small as a grain of sugar or as large as a ping-pong ball.
Another type of gallstone is form from a chemical known as calcium bilirubinate which is produced when red blood cells are broken down by the body. Compared to cholesterol-based gallstones, this type is uncommon.
The problem with gallstones is that they often go undetected, even remaining lodged in the gallbladder for years. In fact, a lot of those who have them aren’t even aware of the presence. If left unattended, however, they can lead to severe issues such as infection, inflammation, and pain.
2. Choledocholithiasis or Common Bile Duct Stones
Choledocholithiasis refers to gallstones that are lodged in the common bile duct where bile is deposited from the gallbladder. There are two types of common bile duct stones. There’s the primary choledocholithiasis which is formed within the common bile duct. Then there’s the secondary choledocholithiasis which is formed in the gallbladder and transported to the common bile duct.
Usually, gallbladder symptoms such as pain, jaundice, nausea and vomiting, and clay-colored stools are found in people who have choledocholithiasis. Primary stones are less common than secondary stones. However, they’re more likely to cause infection.
3. Cholecystitis or Inflamed Gallbladder
Cholecystitis occurs when the bile duct is clogged up and bile can’t pass through, causing it to irritate the gallbladder, thereby leading to infection and inflammation. More commonly, this is due to a gallstone that lodges and obstructs the bile duct where bile passes to and from the gallbladder.
There are also two types of cholecystitis: acute cholecystitis and chronic cholecystitis. Acute cholecystitis refers to the inflammation of the gallbladder over a few hours or days. This usually shows gallbladder symptoms such as tenderness and pain in the mid to right upper quadrant, high-grade fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting.
Chronic cholecystitis, on the other hand, is characterized by recurring gallbladder attacks of pain when cholelithiasis continually blocks the cystic duct. Here, the gallbladder may be damaged due to repeated attacks.
If left unattended, the condition could lead to severe, even life-threatening, complications such as the following:
- Gallbladder infection
- Death of the gallbladder tissue
4. Common Bile Duct Infection
If the common bile duct is clogged up and blocked, it can possibly lead to an infection. Gallbladders symptoms like jaundice, itching, fatigue, weight loss, light brown urine, fever, and chills are often experienced. In this case, early diagnosis is vital as it may develop into a severe and life-threatening infection such as septicemia or infection in the bloodstream.
5. Perforated Gallbladder
Due to excess bile in the gallbladder probably due to gallstones that obstruct its way, there is a high chance that the gallbladder will perforate or burst. This will cause to organ to leak out bile into other parts of the body, thereby leading to severe infection.
Gallbladder symptoms such as jaundice, sharp gallbladder pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever should not be ignored to avoid complications such as sepsis.
While gallstones are considered the most common cause of gallbladder perforation, there are actually other causes that might cause the organ to rupture. They’re as follows:
- Ascariasis which is caused by the parasitic Ascaris lumbricoides roundworm
- Biliary sludge made of bile and particle matter which can clog the gallbladder
- Bacterial infections due to Streptococcus faecalis or E. coli
- Blunt injury from vehicle accidents
- Direct blows from contact sports like wrestling or soccer
- Falls in an impact to the abdominal area
6. Gallstone Ileus
This type of gallbladder problem is rare but poses a great threat to the life of the victim. This is when a gallstone migrates and lodges in the intestine and further blocks it. Typically, the clinical manifestation of the problem is non-specific; however, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, pain, and abdominal distention may be present and should not be ignored as this requires emergency surgery to remove the blockage.
This condition tends to be more common among individuals aged 65 and beyond.
7. Chronic Gallbladder Disease or Dysfunctional Gallbladder
Recurrent cholecystitis predisposes an individual to have a dysfunctional gallbladder or commonly called chronic gallbladder disease. Symptoms for this disease are hard to pinpoint; however, they may include diarrhea, indigestion, abdominal fullness, and increased gas.
This type of condition normally stems from gallstones forming in the gallbladder. However, there are also other causes of the condition such as the following:
- Presence of tumor in the pancreas or liver
- Excess cholesterol found in the gallbladder (often due to rapid weight loss or pregnancy)
- Presence of tumor in the gallbladder
Chronic gallbladder disease tends to be more common among women than men, and this can be mostly attributed to their ever-changing hormones. As such, those who undergo hormone therapy and even those who are pregnant are at a higher risk.
Also, the Cleveland Clinic revealed that those who are aged 40 and beyond have a higher risk of getting this condition. The same can be applied to those who are overweight as well as Hispanics and Native Americans.
8. Gallbladder Polyps
Gallbladder polyps are abnormal tissue growths that bulge from the inside lining of the gallbladder. As a matter of fact, 95% of these growths are benign, and the size of the polyp can help predict if it’s malignant or benign. Occasional gallbladder pain, nausea, and vomiting may be experienced by people who have gallbladder polyps.
Most of the time, polyps don’t bring any health risks. However, larger ones will require removal via surgery as they might develop into cancer or even bring forth severe conditions.
9. Gallbladder Abscess
Empyema or gallbladder abscess is a condition wherein there is inflammation of the gallbladder due to the presence of pus which is produced from the combination of bacteria, dead tissue, and white blood cells.
People who have this condition may experience gallbladder attack including high-grade fever – with or without chills – and excruciating pain on the right upper side. These symptoms should not be disregarded as this may be lethal. People with reduced immune systems, diabetes, and obesity have a greater chance of developing this complication.
10. Gallbladder Calcification
Gallbladder calcification or porcelain gallbladder is the calcification of the walls of the gallbladder, making them stiff and limiting the gallbladder’s function. It is characterized by a porcelain-appearance on the gallbladder walls.
It’s believed that this condition happens when there’s too much gallstone deposit in the gallbladder. However, the exact cause isn’t really clear. Symptoms are pretty much similar to that of gallstones including jaundice, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
People who have this condition are more prone to develop gallbladder cancer. This can be asymptomatic, or they can show similar symptoms to that of cholelithiasis. Moreover, those who have this condition are at a higher risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
11. Gallbladder Cancer
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, gallbladder cancer is ranked 17 on the most commonly occurring cancer for men and 18 on women. There were roughly 220,000 gallbladder cancer cases recorded in 2018 alone.
The condition is a disease wherein malignant cancer cells form in the gallbladder. This is uncommon, and chances of recovery are pretty high if detected in the early stages. However, it could also be fatal as the discovery of this disease usually happens at the later stage where the prognosis is already very poor.
Symptoms such as abdominal pain in the right upper quadrant, fever, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, nausea, and abdominal bloating usually manifest for people with this type of carcinoma.
According to scientists, gallbladder cancer can be due to a number of risk factors. Most of them are related to gallbladder inflammation and are all mentioned above. Apart from those, several other factors that increase the risks of developing gallbladder cancer are as follows:
- Obesity – those who suffer from this condition tend to be people who are overweight. Also, obesity is a major risk factor for developing gallstones, thus explaining the connection between it and gallbladder cancer.
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis – this condition occurs when the bile ducts got inflamed, thereby resulting in scar tissue formation. Those who have PSC are at risk of developing gallbladder as well as bile duct cancer.
- Ethnicity and geography – as mentioned earlier, Native Americans and Hispanics are at a higher risk of developing gallbladder diseases, including gallbladder cancer. Meanwhile, those in African American groups experienced the lowest risk. Overall, however, countries such as Pakistan, India, and those in the South American and Central European regions tend to have more common cases of gallbladder cancer.