While the gallbladder originally served an important role for early humans, our modern diet has rendered this digestive organ all but unnecessary. However, if something goes wrong within the pear-sized pouch, the forgettable organ can suddenly become a major problem.
"The gallbladder is designed to hold bile when you eat certain foods," said Dr. Har Chi Lau of Hudson Valley Surgical Group. The sole purpose of the gallbladder is to hold a boost of bile that kicks in and aids the liver's digestion of particularly fatty foods. "When you don’t eat, it’s not in operation."
While there is a gradation between early warning signs and the trademark searing pain in the lower right abdomen, most people mistakenly dismiss gallbladder problems as indigestion or food "not agreeing" with them. Ignoring these signs, particularly over the course of several decades, can be a problem.
"Usually people with gallbladder problems experience gallstones," said Lau. "Liquid imbalance in the bile creates stones. When they're pushed out of the gallbladder and travel down the tube to the intestines, they can cause pain if they're bigger than the walls. If a stone can’t make it out, the gallbladder begins to swell." It's at this point that people often rush to a doctor in pain. In most instances, the gallbladder is then removed to prevent future stones from occurring.
"Doctors make it seem like a gallbladder procedure is a walk in a park," said Lau. "However when it’s hard, it’s one of the most treacherous surgeries you can do. Acute cases aren’t a simple 15 minute surgery, and downplaying by doctors is complete misinformation."
If surgery is necessary, Lau recommends taking the time to find the right surgeon for the removal. "Find a surgeon that is experienced and has seen a lot of gallbladders," he said. The reasoning is twofold.
Firstly, experienced surgeons are versed in multiple surgical procedures -- both minimally invasive and traditional open surgery approaches -- which is important should complications develop during the procedure itself. "Doctors should be thinking, 'What’s the bail out?'" said Lau. "Knowing procedures for open surgery if something bad happens is so important."
Secondly, using a surgeon with gallbladder experience reduces the potential for repeated procedures. "If you’ve had previous surgeries and need to go back in, it makes that surgery that much more complicated due to adhesion, hernia or scar tissue," said Lau, who has over 20 years of experience operating on gallbladders.
While gallbladders aren't necessary for modern humans and normally pose no threats, it's important to be in tune with your body and seek medical attention if recurring symptoms develop.
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