Gallbladder disease is quite common particularly in women after the age of forty. While gallstones are one of the most common types of gallbladder disease, there’s also a condition known as gallbladder sludge which can sometimes cause symptoms even in the absence of stones. Should you be concerned about a gallbladder with sludge?
What exactly is gallbladder sludge and what is it’s significance? As you probably know, the gallbladder serves as a storage receptacle for bile produced by the liver. Bile is an important component for breaking down fat in the diet so it can be used more effectively by the body. When the system is working properly, the flow of bile out of the gallbladder into the small intestine occurs smoothly in response to the secretion of a hormone known as CCK. CCK is secreted when fat enters the small intestines, indicating the need for bile.
Gallbladder sludge occurs when small particles of cholesterol and calcium salts coalesce to form a thick, gelatinous material that remains in the gallbladder for varying periods of time. Although these are not true gallstones, it’s thought that a gallbladder with sludge increases a person’s risk of eventually developing gallstones. In some people, gallbladder sludge will disappear on its own without treatment. In others it will stay around for awhile and cause no problems, while other people with gallbladder sludge will develop full blown gallstones. In cases where a gallbladder with sludge develops into gallstones, the gallbladder may need to be removed.
What kind of symptoms does a gallbladder with sludge cause? In many cases there are none. When there are, the symptoms can be similar to those experienced with gallstones including abdominal discomfort, bloating, and indigestion. Gallbladder sludge can also cause more serious problems such as inflammation of the pancreas and gallbladder. Encouragingly, a study published in the journal Hepatology showed that over seventy percent of test subjects had complete resolution of gallbladder sludge without treatment.
How is the diagnosis of a gallbladder with sludge made? An ultrasound of the gallbladder is the test of choice. This test can also differentiate between gallbladder sludge and gallstones. If you’ve recently lost a great deal of weight or are pregnant you may be at higher risk of developing a gallbladder with sludge and your doctor may be more likely to recommend a gallbladder ultrasound if you’re having abdominal discomfort.
The good news? If a gallbladder with sludge is found on ultrasound and you’re not having symptoms, you’ll likely require no treatment. As previously stated, in most cases gallbladder sludge resolves on its own. It’ll be important to follow up with your doctor in the event that you should develop gallstones.