The liver produces bile, which is an oil (similar to dish soap) able to help break up fat (and therefore aid digestion of fatty foods). The gallbladder is a storage pouch that merely contains some of the extra bile that the liver produces. Sometimes the consistency of the bile is thick like motor oil, and just as grit can accumulate in the oil pan of a car, so small stones and grit can also accumulate in the thick bile of the gallbladder.
The mouth of the gallbladder is small, and if the grit and stones happen to accumulate and block this small opening, the gallbladder cannot empty itself. Signals sent from the stomach whenever there is fatty food in it normally cause the gallbladder muscles to start contracting, pushing the stored bile out of the gallbladder down to the intestine (where it can help dissolve the fat). If the mouth of the gallbladder is blocked, however, spasms of the walls of the gallbladder ensue, causing crampy pain as it pushes against the blockage. This is the typical gallbladder "attack," which often occurs as pain focused under the right lowest ribs.
This is a purely mechanical problem, and the solution is to remove the mechanism of the problem: the gallbladder itself. The bile that is continually produced by the liver is sufficient for digestion; the gallbladder is only a storage pouch for extra bile. No change is digestion ought to occur when the gallbladder is removed (as it produces no digestive substances itself).
Many people suffer with mild or severe "gallbladder attacks" for years before finding out what their problem is. In the past, a large painful incision was required to remove the offending gallbladder, but today almost 98% of gallbladders are removed using a camera and instruments placed through very small incisions. This procedure is known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Three 5 mm holes (1/5 inch) and one 10 mm hole (2/5 inch) are used by Dr. Mazzarella when he removes the gallbladder.
An average operation lasts 30 - 55 minutes, and almost all patients are able to go home the same day. Dr. Mazzarella has performed this operation thousands of times, including for individuals who were turned down by other surgeons.
Some patients have been diagnosed with a multitude of diagnoses (fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, psychiatric disorders) for years, only to find that their pain is easily explained by gallbladder problems and disappears completely when the gallbladder is removed. Furthermore, the camera is able to visualize many other structures within the abdomen and can ensure that many other types of problems do not exist.
An ultrasound of the gallbladder is the most reliable method to detect gallbladder problems. If your physician has ordered this for you and has found gallstones, a laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the easiest next step in treating the problem.
If you would like to make an appointment to discuss this procedure further with Dr. Mazzarella, call (530) 458-3243. If you would like to have your questions answered first, Telemedicine consults are also available.
More resources and counseling regarding laparoscopic removal of the gallbladder: