Published on June 10, 2013

Attack of the Gallbladder

By Stephanie Marsau

Saturday, August 7, 2010 was supposed to be a memorable day. I was going to a good friend’s wedding and would know most of the guests, so I was pretty excited—weddings are always more fun when you know people. Around 5am that morning, I woke up with the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt in my life just to the right of my stomach. It was too high to be my appendix and basically felt like something was going to explode. When the pain started to radiate around to my back, I knew something was wrong. This day would be memorable, but not for the reasons originally thought.

gallbladderEnds up I had gallstones and just a couple weeks later, I had my gallbladder removed. I didn’t ask many questions, because my doctor at the time basically told me it either needed to come out, or we’d run the risk of me having another gallbladder attack and I wasn’t about to go through that. So out it came.

All of this came up a few weeks ago when I was talking to our neighbor about being put under, and I mentioned having my gallbladder taken out a few years earlier. She hadn’t realized I’d had surgery and then she asked, ‘What does your gallbladder actually do anyway?” And I realized I didn’t really know—I knew it somehow helped the liver with digestion, but clearly you can live without it.

So I enlisted the help of current surgeon and former Chief of Surgery at Mary Greeley Medical Center, Dr. James Partridge. I figured if anyone could provide answers it would be someone who has taken out more than their fair share of gallbladders.

Q:  I had my gallbladder out three years ago due to gallstones—what causes those to form?
A:  The exact cause of gallstones is actually unknown. Although they can develop during periods of rapid weight loss, we usually do not find a cause. There are three substances in the bile that is stored in the gallbladder: 1) Bile salts, 2) cholesterol, and 3) water. If one of these goes a little out of balance, then a granule can form. This tiny granule will steadily layer up with the salts or cholesterol and become a gallstone.

Q:  I’ll be honest. Even when I had a gallbladder, I wasn’t entirely clear on what it actually did. And now that I don’t have one anymore, how does my body compensate?
A:  The gallbladder is simply a storage place for bile. We need bile to absorb certain essential fatty acids as well as some vitamins. This large reservoir is not usually needed as there is enough bile in the ducts inside and outside the liver where the bile is made. In addition, the body makes adjustments when the gallbladder is no longer present. This is usually seen in the few weeks after removal by the ducts becoming larger.

2012 Robot_HC adQ:  I had my surgery done laparoscopically. I know that Mary Greeley uses the DaVinci system for surgeries like the one I had. Is there a difference between the two methods?
A:  There are multiple ways to safely do surgery. When it comes to gallbladder surgery, most will be removed with help of a device called a laparoscope. The DaVinci robot also uses a similar scope, although it is not quite the same. With the laparoscope, we have excellent images projected to the surgical team on a high definition TV screen. However, that is a 2D, or flat, image. With the DaVinci system the surgical team still sees a 2D image. However, the surgeon looks through two small screens directed at each eye, and this gives a 3D image. This gives the surgeon more information about the surgical environment, which has the promise to increase confidence and decrease technical challenges. The robot doesn’t do anything without me directing it to move, so this maintains the human control that we feel we need.

So it ends up your gallbladder does serve a purpose, but you really don’t need it. As mentioned above, Mary Greeley Medical Center utilizes the DaVinci system, which provides great benefits to the patient—most notably, quicker healing with less pain. To read more about DaVinci and Dr. Partridge, click here to read Jennifer Kelly’s story about having her gall bladder removed—and if you’d like to see DaVinci in action, click here to watch a surgery!

About the Author

Stephanie MarsauStephanie is the Marketing Communications Coordinator at Mary Greeley Medical Center. A blogger for several years, Stephanie's goal is to present health information in an entertaining, but helpful way.

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