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Gallbladder disease, also known as gallbladder attack, is an inflammation, infection, or obstruction of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small sac that stores bile produced in the liver. The bile is then released from the gallbladder into the upper intestine, where it helps digest food, primarily fats. Anything that slows or obstructs this release of bile can result in gallbladder disease. There are two types of gallbladder disease: cholecystitis and cholelithiasis.
Cholecystitis is an acute form of gallbladder disease, which causes a sudden inflammation of the gallbladder, resulting in severe abdominal pain. Many times this is caused by gall stones, but illness, alcohol abuse, and in rare cases, tumors, may also cause the condition. Bile is trapped inside the gallbladder, causing pressure and irritation, which can lead to more serious bacterial infections and perforation of the gallbladder.
Symptoms of cholecystitis include sharp, cramping, or dull pain in the upper right or upper middle abdomen. The pain may come and go, become worse after eating greasy food, and occur within minutes of eating. Other symptoms include a feeling of fullness, excess gas, fever, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, or even jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
Cholelithiasis is caused primarily by gall stones. These hard pebble-like stones form inside the gallbladder and are caused by a variety of factors. Too much cholesterol in the bile, improper emptying of the gallbladder, or insufficient bile salts are all common causes of gall stones which lead to gallbladder disease. Many times there are no symptoms experienced by sufferers of cholelithiasis, and the problem may only be discovered by routine x-rays, surgery, or other medical procedures. If symptoms are experienced, they include abdominal pain, jaundice, and fever.
Treatment for gallbladder disease depends on the type. An abdominal x-ray, ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT) scan may be performed if the doctor suspects the presence of either type of gallbladder disease. Patients with acute cholecystitis are given antibiotics to fight infection, and the gallbladder may have to be surgically removed if inflammation continues.
Patients suffering from cholelithiasis may also have to undergo surgery to remove the gallbladder, although this is typically only necessary when symptoms are present. In some cases, gallbladder disease may be treated with medications or other special medical procedures. Bile salts taken orally have been known to dissolve gall stones, although the process can take up to two years, and there is a chance of recurrence. Electrohydraulic shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is another option, in which high energy shock waves are administered from outside of the body to break up large gall stones.
Removal of the gall stones or the gallbladder is the only way to cure gallbladder disease. However, modern advances in technology and surgery have changed these procedures, making them much easier and less painful for the patient. A person undergoing gallbladder removal surgery may be sent home the very same day, in most cases. While there is no known way to prevent gall stones or gallbladder disease, a low-fat diet combined with regular exercise is recommended, and can help control symptoms of the disease.