The gallbladder is an organ that sits below the liver. Its function is to store excess bile that is produced by the liver. Bile helps to break down fats in the intestines. When we eat, the gallbladder contracts to squeeze bile into the small intestine.
About 10% – 15% of Australian adults have gallstones. They are more common in women than men. Most people with gallstones won’t realise they have them and will not have a problem. Diagnosis of gallstones may involve blood tests, an ultrasound, and sometimes a CT scan.
Don’t I need a gallbladder?
No. The gallbladder aids in storing bile, not producing it. The liver produces adequate bile that will continue to trickle into the intestines to help digest fats. In theory, if you were to consume a very large concentration of fat in a single sitting, some of the fat will go undigested and you could develop bloating and diarrhoea. People rarely need to change their diet after having their gallbladder removed.
Surgery for gallstones
Nearly 50,000 gallbladders are removed in Australia every year. The procedure is called a cholecystectomy. This is almost always done with keyhole surgery (laparoscopic cholecystectomy). Surgeons make a few small incisions to allow the insertion of a camera and instruments into your abdominal cavity to remove the gallbladder. The small incisions heal quickly, and the majority of people have a very short stay in hospital.
Dr Lancashire will be able to explain the risks of gallbladder surgery, and the risks of leaving your gallstones untreated.