How are Gallbladder & Pancreatic Diseases Diagnosed?

Doctor exams an X-ray of patients pancreas

The digestive system is a complex set of organs, hormones, and enzymes that work in tandem to turn the food we eat into energy to fuel our bodies. When one or more cogs in this intricate system break down, doctors face a big challenge to diagnose the cause. Gallbladder and pancreatic diseases are two major causes of digest tract distress that can cause of a wide variety of symptoms.

What Are Gallbladder and Pancreatic Diseases?

The gallbladder is a tiny pouch that lies below the liver. The liver produces bile and stores it in the gallbladder. After a meal, bile is released through small ducts into the small intestine to help digest fat. The pancreas also plays a crucial role in aiding food digestion. It is located behind the stomach by the small intestine and releases digestive enzymes into the small intestine while also releasing hormones into the bloodstream to optimize food energy use.

Common gallbladder conditions include:

  • Gallstones—Caused by bile crystallizing in the gallbladder
  • Cholecystitis—An infection of the gallbladder usually caused by the presence of gallstones
  • Gallstone pancreatitis—Caused when an impacted gallstone obstructs the ducts of the pancreas, resulting in an inflamed pancreas

Common pancreas conditions include:

  • Acute pancreatitis—A sudden inflammation of the pancreas that only lasts a short time
  • Chronic pancreatitis—Long-lasting inflammation of the pancreas that usually occurs after an acute attack

What Are the Symptoms of Gallbladder and Pancreas Disorders?

Most people with gallstones don’t have any symptoms. However, some will experience the following symptoms:

  • Intense pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to the right shoulder and back
  • Pain that worsens after a high-fat meal
  • Heartburn, indigestion, and gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark stools
  • Dark urine

Pancreatitis symptoms usually include:

  • Severe pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to the back
  • Swollen and painful abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • FeverHigh heart rate

What Causes Disorders of the Gallbladder and Pancreas?

Several factors play a role in your chance of developing gallstones. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Obesity
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Having bile that contains too much cholesterol
  • Having a gallbladder that can’t empty bile efficiently
  • You have a higher risk of developing pancreatitis if you:
  • Heavy drinker
  • Have gallstones
  • Have an autoimmune disease
  • Have a metabolic disorder
  • Have suffered trauma to the pancreas

How Are Diseases of the Gallbladder and Pancreas Diagnosed?

Doctors use similar testing methods to determine if your gallbladder or pancreas is responsible for your gastrointestinal symptoms. These include:

  • Blood tests to find infections and measure enzyme levels
  • Ultrasounds
  • CT scans
  • MRIs
  • ERCP— a testing method that uses an endoscope to view bile ducts and remove gallstones
  • Glucose tolerance testing
  • Pancreatic function test

What’s the Treatment for Gallbladder and Pancreas Disorders?

Many patients with gallstones will have their gallbladders removed. The operation can be performed laparoscopically through a tiny incision in the abdomen. Others opt for a traditional open surgery.

Patients with pancreatitis are usually treated with IV fluids and pain medication in a hospital. Some may need treatment in the intensive care unit to closely monitor them for potential heart, lung, and kidney damage that may occur. Surgery may be used to remove damaged pancreatic tissue if it becomes infected.

Don’t ignore abdominal pain. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms associated with gallstones or pancreatitis, make an appointment today with the skilled gastroenterologists of Allied Digestive Disease Center of Houston. Our team treats gallbladder and pancreas disorders in addition to all conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.

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