What does the gallbladder do and how can you be proactive?



By pH health care professionals

The gallbladder may not be the most glamorous organ, but it’s an important one. Unless you’re a health care worker, or you’ve recently taken an anatomy class, you may not even know what the gallbladder does or why you need it. Despite its inconspicuous size, the gallbladder can cause some serious pain and damage when you’re not proactive, so take a few minutes to educate yourself about its function and how you can keep it healthy.

Where is it?  Your gallbladder is located on the right side of your abdomen, below your liver.

What is it?  It is a small organ that stores bile.

What does it do? It plays an important role in the digestive process. When food enters the small intestine, the gallbladder releases bile to help digest fats and fat-soluble vitamins, and carries toxins and waste products out of the body.

How can you be proactive to keep your gallbladder healthy?

One of the most common issues with the gallbladder is gallstones. A gallstone is a hardened mass that forms in the gallbladder. Gallstones may form if bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin, or not enough bile salts. In other words, these are all normal elements to have in your gallbladder, but when they get out of balance, stones can form.

 While many gallstones are “silent,” meaning they don’t cause any pain or problems, some cause blockages in the bile duct. When this happens, you may experience pain for several hours until the blockage is cleared; this is sometimes referred to as a gallbladder attack. But complications can arise, such as inflammation, swelling and possible infection. Left untreated, a blockage of the bile duct or pancreatic duct can be fatal, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says.  

You may be more at risk for gallstones if you:

  • Are over age 40,
  • Have a family history of gallstones.
  • Are American Indian or Mexican American. Research has shown these populations are more at risk of gallstones.
  • Are obese. Obesity increases the amount of cholesterol in the bile, leading to cholesterol stones (the most common type).
  • Are rapidly losing weight. Research shows losing more than three pounds per week may increase your gallstone risk. Read our prior post on the topic here.
  • Are a woman. Blame estrogen. If you have extra estrogen, this can increase cholesterol levels in the bile and decrease gallbladder contractions, which may cause stones to form.
  • Aren’t eating very healthy. There may be an association between high fat, refined sugar and low fiber intake, and gallstones.
  • Are often sedentary, stressed or have hypertension.

While some of those risk factors are out of your control (like your age, gender and heritage), you can be proactive and:

  • Lose weight at a safe pace (if you are overweight or obese).
  • Get your hormone levels tested, if you are a woman.
  • Ensure you are eating a balanced diet (our nutritionists and doctors can help).
  • Make an effort to be more active and less sedentary during the day and find stress-coping techniques.
  • Work with a doctor to get your hypertension under control.

When should you see a doctor about your gallbladder?

If you suspect something is wrong, don’t leave it to chance.

If you have any of the following symptoms during or after a gallbladder attack, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says you should see a doctor immediately:

  • Abdominal pain lasting more than 5 hours.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fever—even a low-grade fever—or chills.
  • Yellowish color of the skin or whites of the eyes, called jaundice.
  • Tea-colored urine and light-colored stools.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.