Gallbladder Disease

July 20, 2017

Despite the fact that most people don’t know where their gallbladder is or what it does, gallbladder disease effects millions of people across the country.  In this region, gallbladder removal has become one of the most common procedures performed by general surgeons. Each year, doctors treat many patients suffering from gallbladder disease and, according to medical experts from Penn Highlands Healthcare, the numbers appear to be increasing.
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac that is located under your liver on the right side of your abdomen. Its job is to store bile and use that material to help your body digest fat. When there is a blockage that interferes with this process, pain and inflammation can occur, leading to gallstones. 
Gallstones are a very common medical issue affecting patients who seek emergency treatment, and while even a seemingly-healthy individual may suffer from them, there are some steps that can be taken to help avoid this problem and maintain a healthy gallbladder. 
Dr. Kennita Burns-Johnson, general surgeon at Penn Highlands Clearfield, recommends that patients maintain a healthy weight and diet. “Try to control cholesterol and fat intake,” Burns-Johnson suggested. “Not all gallstones are controllable, but for those that are, the best advice is to manage your diet and really pay attention to cholesterol.”
As indicated by Burns-Johnson, an unhealthy diet, such as one high in calories and low in fiber, can be a significant risk factor for gallstones and gallbladder disease. Additionally, a rapid weight loss or obesity can put patients at a higher risk for gallbladder issues. 
Dr. Daniel Perri, general surgeon at Penn Highlands Brookville, added that patients in their 40s are also at an increased risk of gallstones and gallbladder disease.  “Additionally, women are at a greater risk than men due to hormones,” Perri said. Increases in estrogen levels and decreases in progesterone have been linked to gallstones.
For those trying to reduce their risk of gallstones and gallbladder disease, Perri suggested avoiding dehydration, avoiding over-eating and refraining from the use of narcotics.
Gallbladder problems may present differently in each patient; however, there are some common symptoms that should not be ignored. According to Dr. Michael Wingate, general surgeon at Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Elk, “patients experiencing severe pain or nausea after eating, particularly after consuming fatty foods, should seek help.” 
Perri added, “the classic symptom is pain in the upper, right side of the abdomen that may radiate to the middle of your back. This pain is usually associated with nausea or vomiting and typically occurs after eating a fatty meal.”
“Patients may also complain of a subtle pressure in the abdomen, gas or burping and even indigestion,” Perri said.
The best recommendation to dealing with symptoms is to establish a relationship with a primary care physician and to ensure that routine visits are not missed, according to Wingate.
“If you find yourself without a primary care doctor, or without one that makes you feel comfortable, then find one,” Wingate said. “Many patients avoid seeing a doctor because of fear,” he added. 
Wingate emphasized that patients with persistent symptoms should not delay treatment. “Make time to take care of an issue before it becomes an emergency,” he said. 

Dr. Kennita Burns-Johnson, General Surgeon at Penn Highlands Clearfield conducts an examination of a patient’s abdomen.

Burns-Johnson also stressed the importance of setting fear to the side in order to obtain treatment. “These issues won’t get better or go away on their own,” she said. “Waiting could cause life-threatening issues, so be aware of the symptoms and don’t wait to see your doctor.”
Perri agreed that “it’s always better to do something sooner than to wait until later. The longer patients wait to seek treatment, the greater their risks of complications.” In other words, seeking help quickly can help you avoid the Emergency Department and a potentially dangerous illness. 
Seeking treatment as soon as symptoms arise and maintaining regular check-ups can lead to earlier detection and intervention. This early detection allows patients to have their gallbladder removed electively, meaning as a non-emergent procedure.
There are many advantages to scheduling an elective procedure. These patients have the opportunity to meet their surgeon, discuss their options during an office visit and schedule the procedure at a time that is most convenient for them. Whereas, delayed treatment may lead to an emergency procedure with a surgeon they have never met and may even limit the available methods of treatment. 
To help overcome the fear of treatment, it’s important to understand what your visit might involve if you are suffering from a gallbladder issue. “The first step would be to obtain a medical history and conduct a physical exam, including an exam of the patient’s belly,” said Burns-Johnson. “From that point, lab tests would be ordered and, depending on the case, imaging (such as a CT or an MRI) would likely be needed.”
If it is determined that a patient requires surgery to remove the gallbladder, there are two methods of removal - laparoscopic removal or an open surgery. 
Laparoscopy is a type of surgical procedure that uses a small instrument, called a laparoscope, to see inside of your body.  This method allows surgeons to complete the operation by making several small incisions instead of one, larger incision.
Laparoscopy is typically the preferred method of gallbladder removal because it is less invasive and the recovery time is much shorter than that of an open surgery. A patient undergoing a laparoscopic gallbladder removal could expect to go home by the next day in most cases, and they should fully recover in about a week.
A patient undergoing an open gallbladder removal surgery should expect about two or three days in the hospital, as well as another four or six weeks of recovery.
Just like other surgeries, there are risks and potential complications associated with gallbladder removal.  Patients should ask questions about their treatment plans and try to commit to a healthy lifestyle to help decrease their risk of complications.
Anyone experiencing symptoms that they believe are related to gallstones or gallbladder disease should seek medical attention. For more information, contact your primary care physician and in the event of an emergency, call 9-1-1.