Gallbladder Disease: Major Causes, Consequences, and Treatments

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  • 0:55 Cholelithiasis
  • 3:21 Consequences
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will explore common diseases and conditions associated with the gallbladder, including cholecystitis, cholangitis, and cholelithiasis. This lesson will also cover the major types of gallstones and why they may form.

Expensive and Painful Concretions

I want you to think about if you or someone you know have ever put on perfume. I'm willing to bet that about 99% of you, somewhere in your lifetime, can remember something like that happening.

Well, if that's the case, then there's a chance that that perfume, especially if it was expensive, was made with ambergris. Ambergris is a concretion, a solid mass formed in the body, that is specifically produced in the digestive tract of sperm whales that may help them digest their food. It can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars because it's so rare and coveted.

Unfortunately, the concretions humans make in their digestive system aren't valuable and can cause you severe pain instead - funny how things are different between the species. I'll explain what I mean as we explore some of the more common gallbladder diseases.

What Is Cholelithiasis?

If you've ever heard of gallbladder stones, or gallstones, then you should know what cholelithiasis is. It is a disease known for the formation and presence of gallstones, also known as choleliths, in the biliary tract. Gallstones are hard, semi-round combinations of varying levels of cholesterol; bilirubin, a type of bile pigment formed from the breakdown of red blood cells; and calcium. I want you to remember that the majority of gallstones contain cholesterol in large quantities. Cholesterol is that stuff found in animal fat, egg yolk, and cheese.

It shouldn't surprise you then that people with high levels of cholesterol, such as those found in obesity, are predisposed to forming cholesterol gallstones, which are often yellow in color. Women, whose higher estrogen levels lead to higher cholesterol secretion into the biliary tract, and individuals with diabetes mellitus are also more likely to develop cholesterol gallstones.

A type of gallstone known as a pigment stone, which contains large quantities of calcium and bilirubin, is black in color. These stones form as a result of increased levels of bilirubin. Since bilirubin is released in high quantities during hemolysis, the breakdown of red blood cells, people with chronic, or long-standing, hemolysis as a result of a disease process are predisposed to developing this type of gallstone. Individuals with cirrhosis are more likely to form pigment stones as well.

Most individuals with uncomplicated cases of gallstones experience no signs or symptoms, have normal lab work, and will need no treatment, but these stones may show up incidentally when an imaging modality, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan, is used for another purpose. In some cases, medication such as ursodiol may be used to try and dissolve cholesterol gallstones. Lithotripsy, a procedure that uses shock waves to dissolve the stones, or a cholecystectomy, a procedure that removes the gallbladder, may be employed if the gallstones cause trouble. To remember that anything ending in the suffix -ectomy refers to its removal from the body to the outside world, try to think about the fact that ectotherms, like reptiles, rely on outside sources of heat in order to stay warm.

The Consequences of Gallstone Formation

At this point, I really hope you're trying to figure out what the consequences of these stones may be. Well, if a gallstone exits the gallbladder, it can lodge in several places as it tries to work its way down to the intestines.

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