The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your stomach that acts as a reservoir for a digestive fluid called bile, produced by the liver which is just above the gallbladder. The gallbladder releases bile to the small intestine via a small duct. While it plays a helpful role in the digestive process, especially digestion of fatty foods, many people have their gallbladders removed and live normal, healthy lives.
Gallstones are hardened formations of material that can build up inside your gallbladder, eventually blocking the duct and making it difficult for bile to pass. Gallstones can cause an array of symptoms, including pain in the right abdomen, navel, upper back and right shoulder. Sometimes pain can also occur in the left abdomen. Pain can range from mild to severe. Left untreated, gallstones can eventually cause the gallbladder to rupture.
Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder, and it often occurs in people with gallstones, but it can also occur in people with other types of duct problems as well as those with gallbladder cancer. Cholecystitis causes symptoms like pain in the right side and shoulder, nausea, vomiting, fever and tenderness in the abdomen.
Gallbladder cancer can cause symptoms similar to gallstones and cholecystitis, as well as jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. It can also cause bloating, loss of appetite and weight loss.
There are several tests for gallbladder problems, including blood tests, ultrasounds, and CT scans.
Most gallbladder problems are treated by removing the gallbladder, usually with a minimally-invasive laparoscopic procedure that uses small incisions and results in faster recovery.