Doctor examining Gallbladder x-ray

How to Test for Gallbladder Problems

Do you have gallbladder issues?

If this tiny organ, which is found under the liver and stores bile, isn’t bothering you, you may never think twice about it. Some conditions that involve this small sac don’t generate symptoms. Other gallbladder ailments can bring on rapid, intense pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen.

A variety of tests are helpful for diagnosing gallbladder problems. If you think that yours isn’t functioning properly, contact a local gallbladder doctor who can help you with your condition.

Common Gallbladder Issues

Although the liver produces bile, that liquid is stored in the gallbladder. The tissue on the interior of this organ contains hundreds of tiny protrusions that increase the surface area and maximize absorption. The walls of the gallbladder soak up water and inorganic salts, concentrating the bile so that it can be used effectively for digestion.

If this process doesn’t operate properly, you can develop gallbladder problems.

When you eat, the gallbladder emits bile into the small intestine to break down fats so that they can be taken up properly by the digestive system. If the gallbladder doesn’t empty properly, the bile can become too concentrated. Excess cholesterol or bilirubin in the liquid can solidify into gallstones.

These hard formations can also form when the bile contains too much cholesterol or bilirubin for reasons other than problems with gallbladder emptying. Certain hormones, diseases such as diabetes and cirrhosis and rapid weight loss can increase the risk of gallstones.

The deposits vary in size. They may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Once they’re that big, you’ll probably feel the symptoms. As the gallstones grow, they begin to obstruct the bile ducts.

Inflammation of the gallbladder is called cholecystitis. It can be caused by certain diseases, infections or cancers.

It can also develop from the presence of gallstones or problems with the blood vessels. Cholecystitis can lead to tissue death and gallbladder tears.

It could also cause the organ to burst.

How do you know if you have a bad Gallbladder?

Your gallbladder may not work well if you have gallstones, cholecystitis or gallbladder cancer.

Because your body cannot dissolve fats without bile, you might be able to tell if you have a gallbladder condition if you pass fatty stools, which may float, have frequent diarrhea or experience gas and bloating. These symptoms may be heightened after eating a fatty meal.

Many digestive conditions present with similar symptoms, however, so what are signs of a bad gallbladder specifically?

Gallstones and cholecystitis can cause a specific type of abdominal pain. The discomfort may come and go, but you usually feel it in the upper-right area of the abdomen, and it can extend to the chest and back.

Because your gallbladder is tied to your digestion, problems with it can also cause nausea and vomiting.

A gallbladder attack usually happens when you have a blockage, large stones, a tumor or severe inflammation. The pain may start suddenly and feel like a sharp stab, a dull ache or cramps. The steady pain may occur after meals and spread to the area underneath the right shoulder blade. Symptoms of an acute dysfunction include fever, chills, jaundice and grayish stools.

Diagnosing Gallbladder Problems

If you have any of these symptoms, a doctor might ask specific questions to narrow down the potential problem and rule out other conditions. He or she may also look for Murphy’s sign, tenderness that occurs when the patient’s abdomen is palpated in a certain way.

If gallbladder trouble is suspected, the medical professional may conduct a gallbladder test.

How do you test for gallbladder problems?

Ultrasound is commonly used to get an image of the gallbladder and belly. This may detect gallstones or an enlarged gallbladder but not cholecystitis. Ultrasound may also pinpoint whether your symptoms are caused by a blockage, clot or tumor in the gallbladder or different area within the abdomen.

X-rays and CT scans can help doctors diagnose ruptures, which may be caused by large gallstones, and infections. A gallbladder scan, also referred to as a HIDA scan, is more intensive than a regular X-ray or CT scan. It involves injecting a small amount of radioactive substance into the patient. This tracer is absorbed by healthy gallbladder tissue.

By examining the activity of the radionuclide in the organ, health professionals can assess its function and diagnose potential problems, including gallstones, infections, tumors, cysts, and other issues.

Blood tests can be conducted in addition to imaging assessments. A complete blood count can also look for signs of infection. Liver function tests evaluate the levels of certain proteins, digestive chemicals, and bilirubin in the bloodstream.

Some specific liver function tests include:

  • Alanine transaminase (ALT) test
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) test
  • Aspartate transaminase (AST) test
  • Bilirubin test
  • Gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT) test
  • L-lactate dehydrogenase (LD) test
  • Prothrombin time (PT) test

Some of these tests look for liver damage as well as gallbladder issues. People with liver problems may be more likely to experience gallbladder disease.

In some cases, gallbladder problems may be caused by tumors. The American Cancer Society reports that many cases of gallbladder cancer are found when inspecting a gallbladder that has been removed for other reasons, such as gallstones or inflammation. Most of the time, however, patients visit a physician because they have symptoms that indicate trouble.

A doctor may feel the belly for lumps or tender areas. They’ll look for fluid buildup in the abdomen and signs of jaundice in the skin and eyes. Lymph nodes may be examined for swelling and bulges.

The Bottom Line

You can live without your gallbladder. Although it facilitates the flow of bile, when it’s removed, your liver can send bile straight to the small intestine.

If you have symptoms of gallbladder disease or suspect that this organ doesn’t function as well as it should, find a doctor that specializes in liver and gallbladder conditions.

An experienced physician can conduct a comprehensive examination and order the tests that you need for a proper diagnosis and prevent serious complications.

Leave a Comment