Your gallbladder helps to facilitate the release of bile into the small intestine, which aids in digestion. Bile is released through small bile ducts, but sometimes these ducts get blocked by small hardened digestive fluid deposits known as gallstones. Gallstones can be treated in a couple of different ways, but surgery is often the simplest and most effective. Below, we take a closer look at why that’s the case.
Surgery For Gallstones
Gallstones are a unique condition in that conventional wisdom is typically thrown out the window when treating them. In the vast majority of cases outside of things like cancer or tumors, a doctor will recommend a non-surgical treatment plan and test it for a couple of weeks to see how the body responds before moving towards a more hands-on approach. That’s because if it can be successfully treated without surgery, there’s no need to subject a patient to an invasive operation that is taxing on their body and the comes with more risks. However, gallbladder surgery is a little different.
For starters, the gallbladder is an important but non-vital organ. It stores bile and releases it when needed during digestion. If the organ is removed, you lose the storage reservoir, but bile is still produced by the liver. Bile will just flow directly into the small intestine. The liver doesn’t store it, so it will be continuously released into the small intestine whether you’re digesting food or not. This means you may not digest large meals quite as easily because you won’t have a storage tank to draw from, but bile will still be produced and move to the small intestine to aid in digestion.
But back to the point about rejecting conventional wisdom. Here’s why surgery is often considered first when gallstones are blocking bile release:
- Minimally invasive procedure.
- Surgery is highly effective.
- As mentioned, gallbladder is a non-essential organ.
- Non-surgical approaches aren’t always effective, and if they are, gallstones can always develop again later in life.
- Very little change in daily habits if gallbladder is removed.
Since the surgery is very straightforward and effective, recurrence likelihood is reduced, it’s not taxing on the patient and your lifestyle doesn’t need to change much after gallbladder removal, surgery is typically one of the first options pitched to the patient.
Now, that’s not to say that you’ll always need an operation if you develop gallstones. There are medications that patients can take that will work to break down the gallstones, but they usually take some time. This can be problematic because gallstones are often painful, and serious problems can occur if the blockage is extreme and bile can’t be safely released.
A recent study took a look at the effectiveness of surgery compared to medications for gallstone development. It found that roughly one-third of patients who opted not to undergo gallbladder removal operation needed to have the surgery within six months of the first consultation. It’s certainly possible that surgery may not be necessary, but if there’s a one in three chance you’ll need the surgery after a painful round of failed treatment, and surgery is so effective, your doctor may recommend surgery as the first option.
To learn more about the laparoscopic gallbladder removal procedure, reach out to Dr. Koeplin.