Gallstones are small concretions that form in the gallbladder when a digestive juice called bile forms small crystals. Very tiny stones may cause no symptoms and are often picked up during diagnostic imaging for another issue. Larger stones can cause irritation and even block the gallbladder ducts, leading to pain and possible infection.
The most common symptoms include:
Symptom “flare-ups” are often referred to as gallbladder attacks, and they occur most commonly after meals.
When gallstones cause no symptoms, a “wait-and-see” approach may be recommended to monitor the stones and determine if surgery is needed in the future. In patients who have had one or several gallbladder attacks, surgery typically is recommended to remove the gallbladder to prevent the formation of additional stones as well as the development of more serious complications including infection and pancreatitis. The surgical procedure is called a cholecystectomy.
Gallbladder surgery is almost always performed laparoscopically, using a series of very small incisions and special surgical instruments to access and remove the gallbladder. During the procedure, several tiny incisions are made in the belly and a scope equipped with a camera is inserted into the belly. The camera transmits real-time video back to a monitor, and the surgeon uses these images to guide the procedure. An inert gas is used to gently inflate the area to make it easier to view. Special instruments are used to remove the gallbladder, and then the incisions are closed. Most laparoscopic gallbladder surgeries are performed on an outpatient basis with patients discharged the same day as their surgery. Patients typically can go back to work in about a week.
No, in most cases, people are still able to digest foods normally even without the gallbladder.
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