You have a nagging pain in your stomach. It might be gas, it could be a pulled muscle, or the after-effects of last night’s dodgy pizza.
Or… it might be your gallbladder.
If this sounds like a tiny, unimportant little organ you’ve never heard of before, you’re half-right. The problem though, is that, if your gallbladder does act up, you could land in hospital, or worse.
When things go pear-shaped
Your gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ, tucked under the liver. The job of the gallbladder is to store bile, a substance that helps you digest fat and fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients. This bile comes from your liver; it travels along in a tube (hepatic duct) that connects the two organs.
So, for a relatively small organ, your gallbladder has an important job – and if it stops working properly, it can cause a lot of pain.
There’s a problem if you:
- Feel pain in your back between the shoulder blades or pain under your right shoulder.
- Feel nauseous and frequently vomit after eating.
- Find your stomach bloating consistently.
- Can’t tolerate fatty or oily foods.
- Find yourself unable to digest food.
- Feel pain in your chest or under the breastbone when you lie down after eating.
These symptoms could mean:
- Gallstones: Stones that form when fat and bile causes crystals to form. These stones can be as grainy as sand, or as big as a golf ball!
- Perforated gallbladder: This is serious and you need urgent medical care. A perforated gallbladder happens when the gallstones have been untreated and have now breached the wall of the gallbladder (made a hole in the wall). The longer it goes on, the more damage it can cause as it could infect other parts of your body.
- Inflamed gallbladder: Here, the excess bile is trapped in the gallbladder and can’t get out, thanks to an obstruction by the gallstone, causing irritation and inflammation – and eventually shutting down completely.
- Gallbladder cancer: This isn’t hugely common, but it is a possibility.
When to go to the doctor
If you’ve noticed any of the symptoms occurring more frequently, it’s time to see a doctor. You don’t want to ignore the signs and end up on the surgery table with an inflamed gallbladder! This is a costly operation, and recovery can take up to three months as your body adjusts to its new situation.
If you frequently experience fever, nausea and vomitting (especially after eating), see you doctor. Pain in the upper-right part of your body and behind the shoulder blades that doesn’t go away within a few hours, also needs a doctor visit. Depending on your gallbladder problem, your doctor could admit you into hospital for surgery. If you’re one of the lucky ones, the problem resolves itself and you never have an attack of pain again.
Gallbladder problems can strike anyone but you’re particularly at risk if you’re female, diabetic, overweight, or have a family history of gallbladder problems.