Gallbladder, Spleen and Appendix, Oh My! What they do, when to worry, and are they really non-vital?
August 2022 Issue — Pink Prescriptions
Gallbladder, Spleen and Appendix, Oh My!
What they do, when to worry, and are they really non-vital?
There are several organs that our human bodies can live without, but we’re especially curious about three of them.
These mystery organs are a puzzlement to most of us. About the only time one hears about the gallbladder, spleen or appendix is
when someone is having it removed. What is the point of these seemingly unnecessary organs? How can they just be removed?
We asked the experts to clue us in and not spare any details.
James F. Gigante, MD
Here’s the funny thing about the Appendix … no one quite knows what it does! Some call it a vestigial digestive organ; in other words, it used to have a function during the early parts of our human evolution (and still does when you are a small child). However, others believe it still may have some sort of function in our immune system, even when we are adults. But there is no definitive answer. What we do know is that we do not need it to live, but that if it “bursts” we could die.
The appendix is a little tube-shaped sac at the lower end of your large intestines, located in the lower right quadrant of your torso. Appendicitis is when the wall of the appendix becomes inflamed, which may lead to poor blood flow and tissue death (ischemia) and ultimately the wall of the appendix may burst. Most people who develop appendicitis are between 10 and 30 years old, but it can happen at any age.
There are a number of causes of appendicitis including a piece of stool lodging in there or a tumor. The classic signs that should cause you to feel concern are pain radiating from your belly button to the lower right of your abdomen. Other less common, but still important, signs are nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, passing out, fever and chills, among others. Should you be experiencing any of these signs, seek medical help. Your doctor will examine your abdomen by hand, which remains one of the most important ways of making a diagnosis. If you have urgent symptoms, you should go to the emergency room and be evaluated. Don’t “ride it out,” because waiting can cause complications. The only treatment for appendicitis is surgery. The surgeon can do it either laparoscopically or via the traditional cut and removal. You will probably need antibiotics to treat any possible infections. You should see your doctor if you have any concerns.
James F. Gigante, MD is a Board Certified doctor of Internal Medicine and a fellow with the American College of Physicians. He has been practicing medicine for 25 years, the last 17 here in the Lowcountry. 843-681-2222; 35 Bill Fries Drive, Bldg H, HHI.
J. William Tsai, M.D., FACS, Southeast Georgia Physician Associates – General & Vascular Surgery
What is the function of the spleen?
The spleen plays an important role in your immune system response. When it detects bacteria, viruses or other germs in your blood, it produces infection-fighting white blood cells.
What is the common cause of problems with the spleen?
Splenomegaly is the enlargement of the spleen. Many different conditions can cause the spleen to enlarge, especially cancers and diseases that cause blood cells to break down too quickly. Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis are also linked to the abnormal size of the spleen. Other common problems include a ruptured spleen or an overactive spleen.
What is the main reason for removing the spleen?
The most common reason for removing the spleen, known as a splenectomy, is to treat a ruptured spleen, which is often caused by an abdominal injury. In severe cases, spleen removal may be necessary, especially if the enlarged spleen is causing serious complications or other treatment options are limited.
How does it affect your health when the spleen is removed?
The spleen is an important organ for fighting infections, but not essential. If it’s damaged by disease or injury, it can be removed without being life threatening. After it’s removed, the vital functions of the organ are passed on to the liver.
Dr. J. William Tsai, specializing in bariatric and general surgery, sees patients at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates – Glynn General & Vascular Surgery, 2500 Starling Street, Suite 201, Brunswick, 912-265-5125, www.sghs.org.
Deanna Mansker, M.D., FACS, CWSP
Beaufort Memorial Hospital
Pain in the Gut: Could it be your gallbladder?
From time to time, we’ve all experienced stomach trouble, oftentimes caused by something we ate, or ate too much of. Summer is the season of cookouts, vacations, and lots of excuses for getting out of healthy-eating routines. But overindulging in warm-weather fare, like burgers, fried chicken or fish, wings, fatty dips and ice cream, might bring on more than just the occasional tummy ache.
So, when is that pain in the gut a sign of something more serious—like a gallbladder attack?
What is the Gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped, sac-like organ in the right upper part of the abdomen, just under the liver. It releases bile into the small intestine to help break down the foods you eat—particularly fatty foods. If something slows or blocks the flow of bile from the gallbladder, a number of problems can result. Common causes of gallbladder pain are:
Cholelithiasis: Gallstones develop when there is more cholesterol in the bile secreted by your liver than it can dissolve. This cholesterol comes from the many fatty foods in our Western diet.
Cholecystitis: Inflammation or irritation of the gallbladder caused by gallbladder dysmotility. This occurs when the gallbladder doesn’t squeeze as well it should or gallstones get stuck in the bile duct.
Biliary dyskinesia: This is when the gallbladder simply does not work properly. There are no gallstones present, although the symptoms may be the same.
Gallbladder disease is actually one of the most common problems surgeons across America see and treat. In fact, 20-percent of women and 10-percent of men have gallstones by the age of 60.
While gallstones can happen to anyone, you are at greater risk if you are female, over 40 years of age, overweight or obese. Being pregnant, diabetic, or eating a high-fat, low fiber diet can also increase your risks.
What are the symptoms of gallbladder disease?
• Cramping or sharp pain in the upper right or upper middle portion of the abdomen.
• Pain that may extend beneath the right shoulder blade or to the back.
These symptoms generally begin 30 to 60 minutes after eating, come and go, and are more pronounced after consuming fatty foods. If you are experiencing these issues, you should see a provider for evaluation. More serious symptoms include severe pain, yellowing of the skin and eyes and fever, and require immediate attention.
While 30 percent of gallstones are hereditary, most of them are due to what we eat. So, the best thing you can do to prevent gallbladder disease is adjust your diet. Some ways you can keep a healthy gallbladder include:
• Eat foods containing monounsaturated fats (olive and canola oils) or omega-3 fatty acids (canola, flaxseed, and fish oil).
• Avoid saturated fats like what is found in butter, meats,
and other animal products.
• Increase your intake of fiber.
• Eat more nuts, fruits, vegetables.
• Watch your sugar intake.
• Eat fewer simple carbohydrates (pastas and bread).
• The first course of action is typically to follow a low-fat diet
and get some exercise.
Deanna Mansker, M.D., FACS, CWSP, is a board-certified general surgeon with Beaufort Memorial Surgical Specialists. She sees patients in Okatie, Beaufort and Varnville.