Gallbladder Health and Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems

The gallbladder is a small organ located near the liver. It plays an important role in digestion by storing bile produced by the liver and delivering it to the intestines, where it helps to break fats down into useful nutrients and waste products.

Gallbladder health can be impaired by certain diseases, including gallstones and cancer. Gallbladder diseases are difficult to diagnose in their early stages, because they often present no gallbladder symptoms. At later stages, diagnosis can still be complicated due to similarity of symptoms to other possible causes.

Gallstone Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Gallstones can be a serious health issue, but in many cases they can be present in the gallbladder and never cause any symptoms or problems. Cholesterol is the primary ingredient in gallstones, which form as a result of a chemical imbalance between cholesterol and bile. Stones can build up in the gallbladder due to several causes, including obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and genetic disposition. Rapid weight loss due to crash dieting can also cause an imbalance that allows gallstones to form.

If gallstones grow large or migrate, they can block the bile ducts and cause serious problems including inflammation and infection. If not treated effectively, gallstones can lead to problems beyond the gallbladder, with pancreatic damage being one of the chief concerns. Symptoms of gallstones include sudden pain that develops beneath the right shoulder or between the shoulder blades, unexplained weight fluctuations, nausea, abdominal swelling, and yellow coloring of the skin and eyes. Patients with any of these symptoms should consult with a doctor for proper treatment.

Gallbladder Cancer and its Treatment

Gallbladder cancer is relatively rare. If it is diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rate of patients is very high. Unfortunately, it is often symptomless until it reaches a late stage, so many patients do not receive a good prognosis after the diagnosis is made. Gallbladder cancer usually starts in the cells lining the bladder wall. The cancer can spread to the bile ducts, liver, pancreas and other organs before symptoms become noticeable. Symptoms are similar to those of gallstones, including back pain, abdominal swelling, and digestive problems, so a doctor should always be consulted if any of these symptoms persist.

Treatment for gallbladder cancer is almost always surgical removal of the organ. Depending upon the stage of the disease, followup treatments may include chemotherapy or radiation.

Maintaining a healthy diet and participating in regular exercise are the best ways to maintain gallbladder health. A high fiber, low fat diet that includes moderate consumption of olive oil may help to maintain gallbladder health and prevent gallstones. Any person who has symptoms that may indicate gallbladder problems should consult with a healthcare professional for diagnosis and to plan a course of treatment.


Mayo, "Gallstones: Symptoms" (accessed April 18, 2010)

Mayo, "Gallbladder Cancer" (accessed April 18, 2010)

This article originally appeared on Suite101.