Why Gallbladder Disease Should Not Be Ignored
Gallbladder disease is one of the most common medical conditions affecting the abdomen and may include infection and inflammation of the gallbladder, the presence of gallstones, or the blockage of bile excreted by the gallbladder.
Symptoms and infection caused by gallstone disease, in particular, are responsible for the most hospitalizations related to gastrointestinal problems—the cost of gallbladder disease treatment has risen more than 20% over the past 30 years in the U.S.
Individuals with longstanding gallbladder disease will have persistent gallstones and inflammation. Ignoring these symptoms can result in a number of significant and dangerous complications, some of which are described below.
Scarring and Stiffness of the Gallbladder
Over time, continued infection and inflammation caused by ignored gallbladder disease may result in a gallbladder that is stiff with fibrous scar tissue. This damage prevents the gallbladder from functioning properly, leading to digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, gas, and chronic diarrhea.
Untreated gallbladder inflammation caused by gallstones may result in an abnormal joining between the gallbladder and the intestines, called a “fistula.” This opening allows gallstones to pass into the intestine, which may cause a dangerous intestinal blockage which could result in dehydration and imbalances in electrolyte complications, infection, or even death.
Peritonitis is a severe infection which occurs when bacteria contaminate the abdominal cavity. Chronic inflammation of the gallbladder caused by gallbladder disease may result in a perforation (hole) in the gallbladder. This gallbladder rupture greatly increases the risk of peritonitis. Peritonitis may require surgical intervention, and, left untreated, this infection can be life-threatening.
The leading risk factor for the development of gallbladder cancer is the presence of gallstones—75% of those with gallbladder cancer have gallstones, too. Other causes of gallbladder disease or anything else which results in chronic inflammation of the gallbladder may also lead to an increased risk of gallbladder cancer. If this cancer spreads to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is less than 10% (meaning that less than 10 out of 100 individuals will survive for five years after initial diagnosis).
If you have experienced prior complications related to your gallbladder, or if you think that you may be suffering from pain caused by gallstones, speak to your doctor. The earlier that a physician is able to identify the presence of gallbladder disease, the earlier they can develop a treatment plan and prevent these significant complications.