In human beings, the gallbladder plays several fundamental roles in physiological function. Specialized cells in the digestive organ facilitate the storage, concentration, and release of digestive secretions. However, dysfunction within the organ can impose severe results. A brief overview of different means of dysfunction that highlights the gallbladder’s importance in metabolic function.
The gallbladder is a hollowed organ, resting in a groove lateral to the right lobe of the liver. The organ is relatively small, spreading four inches in length and an inch and a half in diameter. When fully distended, the gallbladder is capable of storing approximately 50 milliliters of fluid, underscoring its primal function.
The gallbladder is responsible for storing, concentrating, and releasing bile, a digestive protein catalyst. Bile plays a fundamental role in the digestion of fats. Fats are incapable of absorption in their macronutrient form. Bile acts to emulsify fat molecules, or separate them into smaller aggregates, to allow for absorption. When the gallbladder fails to function properly, several complications can ensue.
Two forms of gallbladder disease compose the majority of clinical focus. When bile in the gallbladder is saturated with cholesterol, gallstones often form. These gallstones can block the duct that allows for the release of bile. The excessive distention can induce severe pain. However, the lack of bile excretion can cause more severe complications, as the body is unable to absorb fats. Moreover, cholecystitis, or inflammation of the gallbladder, is an additional form of gallbladder disease of clinical significance. Often induced by gallstone formation, inflammation of the gallbladder increases the risk of bacterial infection, as well as pain and fever. Treatment options for gallbladder disease are limited.
Gallstone removal is a common course of action, alleviating the cause of gallbladder disease. However, this course of treatment is often unsuccessful for long-term results. Subsequently, patients suffering from chronic dysfunction often elect to have their gallbladder removed. This results in bile draining directly from the liver to the digestive system, which can cause varying degrees of indigestion.
While not a necessary organ to survival, the gallbladder plays a fundamental role in metabolic processes in the human body. The storage, concentration, and release of bile from the gallbladder aids in the digestion of fats, subsequently limiting indigestion and ineffective absorption. However, excess cholesterol in the gallbladder can cause the formation of gallstones, inhibiting secretions and inducing inflammation. While treatment options do exist, healthy eating habits are necessary to ensure the gallbladder continues to function at optimal levels of performance.