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Digestive System


The gallbladder lies under the liver and is connected by various ducts to the liver and the duodenum. The gall-bladder is a small hollow organ resembling a money pouch. Its main function is to store bile until it is concentrated enough to be used by the small intestine. The gall bladder can store about 2 oz (57 g) of bile. Bile consists of bile salts, bile acids, and bile pigments. In addition, bile contains cholesterol dissolved in the bile acids. If the amount of cholesterol in the bile acids increases or the amount of acid decreases, then some of the cholesterol will settle out of the acid to form gallstones that accumulate and block the ducts to the gallbladder.

Infection in the gallbladder can be another cause for gallstones. Gallstones may be in the gallbladder for years without giving any signs of the condition, but when they obstruct the bile duct they cause considerable pain and inflammation. Infection and blockage of the bile flow may follow. Surgical removal of the gallbladder may be necessary to treat this condition. Since the liver both produces and stores sufficient amounts of bile, the loss of the gallbladder does not interfere with the digestive process provided fat intake in the diet is regulated.

If the gallstones contain mainly cholesterol, drug treatment for gallstones may be possible. But if there is too much other material in the gallstones, surgery may still be necessary. Even after the condition has been treated successfully by drugs and diet, the condition can return. The drug treatment takes years to dissolve the gallstones.

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