What is your gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small sac that stores bile from the liver. It is located just below your liver. It releases bile via the cystic duct into your small intestine in order to help break down foods. 

What can go wrong in your gallbladder?

Sometimes, something might slow or block the flow of bile from the gallbladder. This can result in a number of potential problems and even lead to gallbladder disease.

Gallstones: Sometimes stones develop in the gallbladder, called gallstones. However, 90% of people with gallstones have no symptoms.

Biliary Colic: In biliary colic, severe pains are caused by a blockage of the cystic duct. The gallbladder contracts and expands rapidly against the blockage. Gallbladder

Inflamed Gallbladder: A gallbladder can become inflamed for a number of reasons, including excessive alcohol consumption, gallstones, infections, or tumors.

Chronic Gallbladder Disease: Gallstones can cause scarring and inflammation, which makes the gallbladder become rigid and scarred. Symptoms include abdominal fullness, diarrhea, indigestion, and increased flatulence. An estimated 20 million Americans have gallbladder disease. 

Which factors contribute to the development of gallbladder disease?

Several factors can contribute to the development of gallbladder disease. Heredity is a big factor, as gallstones occur more frequently in Mexican Americans and Native Americans. Age is another important factor as the disease often strikes people older than 60. Additionally, females tend to have a higher incidence of gallbladder disease than males. 

Diet is also said to contribute to the development of gallbladder disease. There is a significant correlation between high sugar intake and gallbladder disease. Along those lines, obese people (as compared to people of a normal weight) are predisposed to gallbladder illnesses because their bile is supersaturated with cholesterol. Slow intestinal transit (patients who have constipation) often develop more gallstones.

What are the symptoms of gallbladder problems?

Depending on the type of gallbladder problem that you have, symptoms might include:

• abdominal pain
• pain that grows in intensity after eating
• pain that increases with deep breaths
• jaundice
• stools of unusual color
• vomiting, nausea, and/or fever
• shaking or chills
• tenderness in the abdomen
• chest pain and/or heartburn

How can I prevent gallstones?

Thankfully, there are a number of things that you can do to prevent gallstones from forming in the first place.

Control Your Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent gallstones from forming. If you are already overweight or obese, focus on losing weight slowly (1-2 lbs. per week) rather than crash-dieting. Crash-dieting can lead to gallstones forming more often.

Avoid Certain Medications: Some drugs can increase the chances of developing gallstones. These include cholesterol-lowering drugs (such as gemfibrozil and fenofibrate). Hormone therapy can also increase a woman's risk of developing gallstones because estrogen causes the body to make more cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about your concerns about gallstones.

• Eat These Foods: Studies suggest that some foods might help to prevent gallstones, including fruits, vegetables, fiber, monosaturated fats (olive oil), omega-3 fatty acids (avocados, canola oil, flaxseed oil, fish oil), fiber, and nuts.

• Avoid These Foods: Studies suggest that some foods contribute to the formulation of gallstones, including saturated fats, sugar, and carbohydrate-rich foods.

• Get More Exercise: Getting regular exercise helps keep your weight down which may prevent the formation of gallstones. Try to get at least 4 hours of exercise per week.

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Hoffman, Ronald M.D. "Gallbladder Disease." Intelligent Medicine. <>.

Marks, Hedy MPH. "4 Ways to Prevent Gallstones." Everyday Health, 26 Jan. 2010. <>.

Rodriguez, Diana. "Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems." Everyday Health, 25 Jan. 2010. <>.