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The gallbladder is a sac located under the liver. It stores and concentrates bile produced in the liver. Bile aids in the digestion of fats, and is released from the gallbladder into the upper small intestine (duodenum) in response to food, especially fats.
Types of gallbladder disease include:
You can have gallstones without any symptoms. However, if the stones are large, they can block the duct that leads from the gallbladder. This can cause pain and require treatment. At first they may block the duct and move away, causing only occasional pain. Continuous blockage of the duct, however, can be life threatening and requires surgical removal of the gallbladder.
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
A gallbladder attack usually happens because a stone is blocking a passageway in the gallbladder. Gallstones develop in the gallbladder when substances in bile form hard particles. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Women are at higher risk of developing gallstones than men, and the risk increases the more children a woman has had. However, the increased risk associated with having children can be offset by breastfeeding. Women who use hormone replacement therapy are also at higher risk of developing gallstones. Being overweight and rapid weight loss followed by weight gain are other risk factors for gallstones.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you are having a gallbladder attack, you will feel tenderness when the upper right side of your abdomen is touched. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin) occurs when the bile duct (a tube between the liver and gallbladder) is also blocked. If your health care provider thinks you have a gallstone, you will probably need an ultrasound. During an ultrasound, sound waves take pictures of your gallbladder. This test is painless and can be performed quickly, which is important if you are in a lot of pain.
Gallbladders that cause pain are usually removed. There are no known problems caused by living without a gallbladder. Today, most gallbladder surgeries are performed with a laparoscope. This instrument shows the surgeon pictures of your gallbladder as it is being removed. The minimally invasive procedure allows for a smaller incision and a shorter hospital stay than traditional surgery.
Some drugs can dissolve stones, eliminating the need for surgery. They include:
However, it can take 2 years for a stone to dissolve, and gallstones often come back later.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Gallstones should always be treated by a doctor. If you would like to add any alternative remedies to your treatment, see your doctor for tests before you start any alternative therapies. This will help determine the remedies that are right for the size of your stone and your condition. Do not attempt complementary and alternative therapies on your own; work with an experienced provider. Keep all of your physicians informed regarding complementary and alternative therapies, as some therapies may interfere with conventional medical treatments. Work with a provider who is knowledgeable in complementary medicine to find the right mix of treatments for you.
Nutrition and Supplements
These nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). People with a history of alcoholism should not take tinctures. Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures singly or in combination as noted. If you are pregnant or nursing, speak to your doctor before using any herbal products.
A gallbladder attack can be a medical emergency. Do not use herbs to treat gallbladder disease on your own; work with a trained herbal practitioner under the supervision of your doctors. The following herbs are sometimes used to treat gallbladder disease:
Few clinical studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. However, a professional homeopath may recommend one or more of the following treatments for gallbladder disease based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Some of the most common remedies are listed below. A common dose is 3 - 5 pellets of a 12X to 30C remedy every 1 - 4 hours until your symptoms improve.
Castor oil pack. Apply oil to a clean, soft cloth and place on abdomen. Cover with plastic wrap, place a heat source (hot water bottle or heating pad) over the pack, and let sit for 30 - 60 minutes. For best results, use for 3 consecutive days. Apply to abdomen, especially the gallbladder area, to help reduce swelling.
Acupuncture may be especially helpful in pain relief, reducing spasm, easing bile flow, and restoring proper liver and gallbladder function.
Early surgery usually ends symptoms and recurrence. Stones may appear again in the bile duct, however.
If you have diabetes or are pregnant, you have a higher risk of complications from gallbladder attacks. If you are pregnant, use choleretic (bile-stimulating) herbs with caution. Milk thistle and dandelion root are safe in pregnancy. Talk with your health care provider before you take any medication or supplement.
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Review Date: 3/4/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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