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Belly Aches May Mean More Than You Think!

Indigestion. Nausea. Severe abdominal pain. If you are one of thousands of Americans who frequently experience one or all of these symptoms, you know the agony of digestive problems.

You may feel these symptoms are nothing to be concerned about, but that often is not the case. Pain and discomfort is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Don’t ignore your symptoms.

Keith, a 60-year-old Hammond resident, knows firsthand the pain of a gallbladder attack. While recovering from recent knee surgery, Keith suddenly began experiencing what he first thought was indigestion, but quickly turned to nausea, vomiting and severe back pain.

“I had been feeling fine,” Keith recounts. “I ate a cheeseburger for dinner that night and a little while later, I started to feel like I had indigestion. At first I thought it was just from the food, but then I began vomiting and got an excruciating pain in my back. I had no idea what it was.”

Keith’s wife brought him to North Oaks Medical Center’s emergency department, where physician Mark Haile, MD, ordered an ultrasound, revealing stones and sludge in Keith’s gallbladder.

“I had no idea that I had gallbladder problems,” Keith affirms. “Having just had a physical and lab work before my knee surgery, I thought I was pretty healthy. In the past, I had had some mild pain in my back but thought it was muscle pain and it went away very quickly. This was a whole new level of pain.”

Dr. Dorothy Lewis of North Oaks Surgical Associates performed an emergency laparoscopic gallbladder removal, or cholecystectomy, which is the most common way to remove the gallbladder. This procedure is done using a laparoscope, a thin, lighted tube that lets the surgeon see inside your body.

The surgeon makes three to four small cuts in the belly and inserts the laparoscope through one of the cuts. Other medical instruments are inserted into the other cuts to allow the physician to perform the removal. Compared to those who have open surgery, patients who have laparoscopic procedures typically have a quicker recovery and fewer problems following surgery.

“I’ve been at North Oaks for 28 years,” explains Alice Stevens, RN, an operating room nurse at North Oaks. “Not long after I got here, we did a laparoscopic surgery on a gallbladder. We are now doing so many different types of these surgeries and doing them more frequently. Recovery time is less, the incision is smaller and the patient experiences less pain.”

The first priority is to try to do a procedure by laparoscope instead of with a larger, more open incision. Severity of the problem or patient history can sometimes lead to an “open” procedure. At North Oaks, more than 94 percent of gallbladder
surgeries performed are laparoscopic.

While cholecystectomy was one of the first types of laparoscopic procedures, laparoscopic surgery is now used to treat a variety of other gastrointestinal conditions, including gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), colon resections, appendix removal and hernia repair, to name a few.

Keith was fortunate. Although he had no real symptoms until the attack, his gallbladder was nearly gangrenous when it was removed. Gangrene is a potentially life-threatening condition in which soft tissue dies due to loss of blood supply.

Results from blood work he had done just a month prior in preparation for his knee surgery were all normal and showed no signs of a problem. At the time of the gallbladder attack, they were well out of range, indicating that his gallbladder deteriorated severely in a matter of weeks.

“I am very thankful that I did seek medical help immediately,” he stresses. “If I had not come to the hospital and if the team had not found that it was my gangrenous gallbladder causing my pain, then I may not be here today.”

Keith and his wife Linda Jo are grateful for his recovery from gallbladder surgery.

For more information on North Oaks Surgical Services, click here.

If you experience pain in your upper right abdomen — particularly after eating very fatty or greasy foods — think about your gallbladder first! Seek medical attention quickly!


What is a Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is essentially a storage unit for bile, which is a substance created by the liver that is needed to break down and digest fats that you eat.

The gallbladder is located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen just below the liver. It is connected to the liver by bile ducts and is typically about four inches in size and is oblong or pear shaped.

What Does the Gallbladder Do?

The gallbladder works with the liver to play a key role in your digestion, formation of blood and guarding against infection. During digestion, the liver produces bile, a yellow-green liquid needed by the intestine to help digest fat and oils. Bile ducts, or tubes, carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and on to the intestine. Bile is stored in the gallbladder, which contracts periodically to force the bile into the intestine. The gallbladder and bile ducts make up what is called the biliary system (bile tract). Bile is important because it regulates the level of friendly bacteria, destroys dangerous organisms, helps digest fats and other nutrients and stimulates
the muscles that move fecal matter out of your body. When your liver is not able to remove toxic substances from your body, toxic bile is secreted into your small intestine, causing infection.

What Are Gallstones?

Tiny stones that are formed from hardened bile and cholesterol. Gallstones can block the release of bile from the gallbladder and cause:

  • Severe Pain (especially after eating greasy foods)

  • Jaundice

  • Pancreatitis

  • Bowel

  • Obstruction

Life Without a Gallbladder

As important as it sounds, the gallbladder is one organ your body can do without. Regular biliary system function can easily continue after surgical removal of the gallbladder. The body copes with losing its extra storage space for bile by filling the bile ducts and using them to store the excess bile.