The gallbladder is a small, solid organ that sits just under the liver. Dr. Jerman, can you tell us more about the gallbladder?
Absolutely, Dr. Mansfield. The digestive juice produced by the liver, called bile, is stored in the gallbladder. When the gallbladder is full of bile, it's about the size of a small pear.
As a person eats, the gallbladder squeezes bile through the bile ducts, which connect the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine. The bile dissolves fat in food so that the intestine can digest the fat molecules.
Although bile helps digest fats, the gallbladder, as primarily a storage organ, is not essential. Typically, if a person is otherwise healthy, their gallbladder can be safely removed without causing any observable problems with health or digestion.
However, some people may experience diarrhea after gallbladder removal. Without the gallbladder to store bile between meals, bile continues to be produced and secreted by the liver continuously in small amounts, which can irritate the intestines and cause diarrhea. Separately, if a person ingests a large, fatty meal without a gallbladder, there may not be enough bile all at once to digest all the fat, which can also lead to diarrhea.
Gallbladder removal is common for people who have symptoms related to gallstones.