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Ask the BJC Expert

Ask the BJC Expert


Jennifer Etling (Doctor/General Surgery)

Published on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Jennifer Etling is a board-certified general surgeon with Benrus Surgical.  She has offices at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital and Progress West Hospital.  She can be reached at 636.441.2122.

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What is the gall bladder?  What does it do?

The gall bladder is a small, hollow organ that sits next to the liver and is part of the digestive system.  It stores bile made by the liver and after a meal, releases bile to help digest fat.

What are some of the symptoms of gall bladder issues?

The most common symptom people have when the gall bladder is causing a problem is abdominal pain after eating a meal, usually in the right, upper part of the abdomen. There are a lot of other symptoms that could be mistaken for other problems, but could actually be related to the gall bladder.  Those include nausea, vomiting, indigestion, bloating, reflux, heartburn and upper back pain.

Are there tests people can do to see if there’s a problem with the gall bladder?

If you have symptoms that suggest gall bladder disease, your doctor will most likely order an ultrasound. That test will look for gall stones, which is the most common reason people have problems with their gall bladder.  The test will also show if there is any inflammation around the gall bladder.  If the ultrasound is normal and symptoms persist, we sometimes do a HIDA scan to see how the gall bladder is working.

What are some of the treatment options?

Once you start having symptoms, surgery is the standard treatment.  We do surgery to prevent complications from gall bladder disease like pancreatitis or gall stones getting out of the gall bladder and into the bile duct tubes.  In the meantime, while waiting for surgery or waiting to see your doctor, we recommend a low-fat diet and pain medication can also be used.

What is non-invasive surgery?

Most of the time, gall bladder surgery is done laparoscopically.  Most of the time it’s outpatient surgery so the patient can go home the same day and recover in the comfort their own home.  The recovery time is much shorter than it used to be when we had to do bigger incisions.  Most people are back to normal activities 1-2 weeks after surgery.

Should people contact you or first go see their primary care physician?

Typically, patients see their primary care physician.  Occasionally, people end up in the emergency room if their symptoms are severe.  Usually, the primary care doctor will order appropriate tests including an ultrasound, sometimes blood work.  If things still suggest gall bladder disease, typically people are referred to a surgeon at that point.


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