More than a million Americans have their gallbladders removed each year in a procedure called a cholecystectomy. Gallbladder removal is often performed in people with painful gallstones, but it’s also used to treat gallbladder cancer.
However, many gallbladder problems, including painful gallstones, can be treated without surgery using a technique called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). ERCP leaves the gallbladder intact. With this procedure, your provider uses a flexible scope to evaluate the organ, remove stones, and treat other problems.
At Digestive Disease Specialists, with locations in Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, our providers have extensive experience using ERCP. We also help patients who’ve had their gallbladders removed learn what they can do to stay healthy. In this post, we offer a brief overview of the gallbladder and the steps you can take to live well if you’ve had yours removed.
What your gallbladder does
Shaped a little like a deflated balloon, your gallbladder is located next to your liver and pancreas, and it acts as a holding tank for bile and other important digestive juices. When these juices are produced, your gallbladder stores them for future use.
When you eat, your gallbladder releases these juices through little tubes called ducts. If these ducts become blocked — usually by tiny concretions called stones — you can have symptoms like:
- Belly pain
- Right shoulder pain
- Pain between your shoulder blades
Sometimes these symptoms are transient, but if a stone gets stuck, your symptoms can last for hours or more.
Life without a gallbladder
As mentioned, when you have your gallbladder, it acts as a reservoir for bile. However, that role isn’t essential to your health. If your gallbladder is removed, your digestive juices are released directly to your intestine without being stored first in your gallbladder.
Your digestive system and the rest of your body can function quite well without your gallbladder, but there are some things you can do to prevent potential “hiccups” that can cause discomfort.
Watch those fats
Since bile is primarily used to break down fats, limiting your consumption of fatty foods can improve digestion once your gallbladder is gone. Yes, your liver will still produce the bile necessary to break down fat. However, without a reservoir for extra bile, your liver will have to produce enough of this important digestive juice to keep up with digestion in “real time.”
If you eat a lot of fat, it could take longer for your liver to produce the bile needed to digest it, which could lead to bloating, tummy pain, and other possible side effects.
Eat smaller meals more frequently
If you eat large meals, this puts a big demand on your liver to produce extra bile for digestion. Eating smaller meals at more frequent intervals can keep you feeling full while also limiting the load on your liver. Be sure your meals contain a good mix of fiber, low-fat protein, whole grains, and vegetables and fruits.
Focus on fiber
Fiber supports healthy digestion by keeping your bowels moving regularly. Ideally, you want to include plenty of sources of soluble fiber, which is the type that helps normalize your bowel activity. If you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber, start slowly and increase fiber intake gradually. Otherwise, you might find you have a lot of gas until your body adjusts.
Following these diet tips can have another benefit beyond supporting normal digestion. Limiting your consumption of fats and increasing your fiber intake can also help you maintain a healthy weight and decrease the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. This kind of cholesterol is a leading cause of stroke and heart attack.
Learn more about gallbladder treatments
If you have symptoms associated with gallstones, having an evaluation is the first step in making sure you get the care you need to stay healthy and avoid potential complications. To schedule your evaluation or to learn more about gallbladder treatments, book an appointment online or over the phone with Digestive Disease Specialists today.