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What Is the Connection Between the Gallbladder and Digestive System?

A healthy gallbladder and one with gallstones.
A diagram of the digestive system, including the digestive system.
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  • Written By: A.M. Boyle
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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There is a key relationship between the gallbladder and digestive system. The gallbladder receives and stores a fluid called bile. The bile is released during digestion to assist with the breakdown of fats. Without the gallbladder, people would have a more difficult time properly digesting the fats that they consume.

Many people don’t readily recognize the link between the gallbladder and digestive system. This small, teardrop-shaped organ is only about 3 inches (around 8 cm) long and lies in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, below the ribs and behind the liver. Still, it has an important role to play.

The gallbladder is connected to the liver and small intestine by certain tubelike channels called ducts. The liver has the job of clearing toxins from the bloodstream. The resulting by-product of the liver’s toxin-cleansing and filtering process is a substance called bile. Excess bile that is produced by the liver is transferred to the gallbladder through a duct, where it is then stored for later use.

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It is because of this bile storage that the gallbladder and digestive system are connected. The human body needs bile to properly digest fats, but the bile as it originally enters the gallbladder contains an overabundance of substances that cut down on its efficiency. The gallbladder takes the bile that is stored within and condenses it by removing excess salt, cholesterol, water, and minerals, thus making it more effective for breaking down fat. When a person consumes foods containing fat, a message is sent to the gallbladder and digestive system, and the bile is released into the small intestine to do its job.

The gall bladder and digestive system are susceptible to various conditions and diseases that can negatively affect this process. For instance, sometimes the minerals removed from the bile crystallize and solidify within the gallbladder, forming what is known as gallstones. If the stones are large enough, they can block the bile ducts leading from the gallbladder to the small intestine or from the liver to the gallbladder, thus restricting the flow of bile. In other instances, the gallbladder itself can become infected or inflamed, which can negatively affect its ability to store and release bile.

In many instances, problems with the gallbladder can be managed by medication and nonsurgical intervention. In other cases, however, doctors might recommend that the gallbladder be removed. People can survive without this organ but must usually alter their lifestyles to compensate for the lack of a link between the gallbladder and digestive system. For instance, a patient who has had a gallbladder removed or damaged through chronic illness must constantly monitor intake of fatty foods. Further, they might be required to take certain supplements to help with the breakdown of fat during digestion.

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