How Much Does a Gallbladder Weigh?
The gallbladder might be a tiny organ, but it can have a big impact on your overall well-being. That is, health conditions involving the gallbladder can have a substantial impact on your day-to-day quality of life, especially if gallstones or other gallbladder-related conditions become increasingly symptomatic.
With this in mind, we’re exploring everything you need to know about the gallbladder, from chronic gallbladder-related health conditions to ways you can promote gallbladder health.
How Much Does a Gallbladder Weigh?
The gallbladder, which is alternatively known as the cholecyst, is one of the smallest organs in the body. The tiny organ functions as a communicator between the liver and the small intestine, carrying bile from the former to the latter. Since the gallbladder is completely hollow, it weighs only 2 to 2.5 ounces altogether. For reference, this is approximately the same weight as a tennis ball or 2 AA batteries.
What Is the Average Size of a Gallbladder?
Compared to its weight, the gallbladder is relatively long. In fact, the average gallbladder has a length between three and four inches. Moreover, the organ is generally one and half inches wide. Due to its small size, it can only store up to 100 milliliters (.001 liters) of bile before releasing its contents into the small intestine via the bile duct.
What Function Does a Gallbladder Perform?
The gallbladder functions to expel bile from the body, assisting the liver and the small intestine. It is responsible for storing bile, also known as “gall,” that is eventually released into the small intestine. The gallbladder breaks down this bile at different rates depending on the contents.
For instance, bile that is more fat or oil rich will take longer to pass through the gallbladder and into the walls of the small intestine. This is often what causes post-meal bloating. Ultimately, the gallbladder serves as a temporary storehouse for bile, acting as a part of the body’s waste disposal system.
Common Gallbladder Health Issues
Despite the tiny size of the gallbladder, there are plenty of ways that an unhealthy gallbladder can wreak havoc on your well-being. After all, the gallbladder is responsible for working with the liver and the pancreas to dispose of your body’s waste.
An inflamed or damaged gallbladder that is unable to flush waste can lead to pain, fever, chills, vomiting and more. Some of the most common gallbladder health issues include the following:
- Gallstones: These occur when substances in the bile/blood form tough deposits within the gallbladder, preventing the gallbladder from draining bile and performing its essential functions.
- Choledocholithiasis: This occurs as a result of the blockage of the ducts of the gallbladder due to the presence of gallstones. Bile becomes trapped in the gallbladder, unable to move to the intestines, which can result in pain, fever, and jaundice, among other symptoms.
- Cholecystitis: This occurs when the gallbladder becomes inflamed. This can be a one-off instance, but it could also become a chronic issue. Acute cholecystitis typically results from the presence of gallstones, resulting in post-meal pain in the abdomen. Chronic cholecystitis can damage the gallbladder and require surgery.
- Gangrene: Resulting from untreated acute cholecystitis, this results when the gallbladder fails to stimulate proper blood flow, leading to symptoms such as fever, nausea, and confusion.
- Gallbladder Abscess: Known as empyema, gallbladder abscesses occur when the gallbladder fills up with pus. When left untreated, this condition can be life-threatening. Symptoms typically include chills, stomach/abdominal pain, and fever.
- Gallbladder Polyps: These are growths that occur in the gallbladder. They are typically non-cancerous and non-symptomatic, though they may require removal if they grow to a significant size.
- Sclerosing Cholangitis: This results from repeated inflammation of the bile duct, leading to scarring of the gallbladder. While half of the people who develop sclerosing cholangitis will have no symptoms, emergent symptoms may include jaundice, fever, and discomfort.
- Biliary Dyskinesia: Often resulting from chronic inflammation, biliary dyskinesia is when a gallbladder is unable to perform at its maximum function. Symptoms include post-meal pain and indigestion.
- Acalculous Gallbladder Disease: This is diagnosed when there is inflammation in the gallbladder without the presence of gallstones. It often presents similar symptomatology as gallstones/acute cholecystitis.
- Gallbladder Cancer: Although this type of cancer is considered uncommon — it afflicts 4,000 Americans annually — people who suffer from gallstones and chronic inflammation are at an increased risk of developing gallbladder cancer. Though gallbladder cancer starts in the inner walls of the gallbladder, it can spread to other essential organs, such as the liver.
What Are Gallbladder Stones?
Gallbladder stones, perhaps known more commonly as gallstones, are hard deposits that develop in the gallbladder/bile ducts. These stones are typically made of either hardened cholesterol or bilirubin — broken-down red blood cells in the liver. Cholesterol stones are most common. These stones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.
Oftentimes, a person will have multiple small stones in their gallbladder. Some people with gallstones may experience painful symptoms, especially if smaller stones get stuck in the bile duct or if chronic stones lead to inflammation, scarring, or damage. Other people may never experience symptoms, which means they may remain unaware of their gallstones.
In the case that gallstones are obstructing the bile duct or are causing the development of symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Although the gallbladder assists the liver in disposing of waste, it is not an essential organ. Surgery may require the removal of the gallstones or, in some cases, the gallbladder may be removed altogether. Gallstones can also be removed non-surgically using a scope. When symptomatic, untreated gallstones can lead to pancreatitis and other painful conditions. If a patient experiences no symptoms and the gallstones aren’t limiting their gallbladder’s function, no treatment may be required.
How to Keep Your Gallbladder Healthy
Fortunately, keeping your gallbladder healthy is often a simple matter of adjusting your diet. For example, ingesting foods with high fiber content — fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes — can help prevent gallstones. On the other hand, sugar and carbohydrates can contribute to issues with your gallbladder, so cutting down on both can assist you in improving the organ’s function. Moreover, increasing your consumption of healthy fats and oils and cutting down on unhealthy fats can also boost your gallbladder health.
Maintaining a healthy weight for your individual body can also support gallbladder function. However, it’s important to keep in mind that crash diets, weight-loss surgery, and under-eating can actually put you at an increased risk of developing gallstones and other painful conditions. In some cases, gradual, healthy weight loss — resulting from daily movement — can significantly lessen the chance that you’ll develop gallstones. For individuals who have an increased risk of developing gallstones, preventative medications, such as ursodiol — which dissolves gallstones before they can fully form — may be useful.