What Is Biliary Obstruction?

Serious gallbladder complications can occur because of conditions that affect this small but crucial organ. Biliary obstruction is one of those complications. 

Biliary obstruction involves a blockage in one of the ducts that carry bile from the liver to your intestines. Left untreated, biliary obstruction can cause a serious infection and damage to the liver. Our experts explain what causes biliary obstruction, how it’s diagnosed, what symptoms to look out for, and how it’s treated. 

At Illinois Gastroenterology Group our team of highly-skilled gastroenterologists possess extensive experience evaluating, diagnosing, and treating conditions that affect the gastrointestinal system, including biliary obstruction.

Function of the gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that stores bile, a digestive liquid necessary to break down and absorb fat and fat-soluble vitamins. It is situated beneath the liver where it remains flat when empty (think of a deflated balloon) and increases in diameter to accommodate bile storage. 

Liver cells produce roughly 27-34 ounces of bile each day. Liver cells release bile into small tubes that flow to the common bile duct. Between meals, bile diverts into the gallbladder where it’s stored. When you eat a meal that contains fat, the gallbladder contracts to release bile, which flows down the common bile duct and into the small intestine where it helps digest fat. 

What causes biliary obstruction?

Gallstones are the most common cause of biliary obstruction. These hard, pebble-like deposits are made of either cholesterol or waste products from red blood cells, and they form in the gallbladder. They range in size, typically remaining small and causing no symptoms in most people. Sometimes gallstones can clump together forming larger stones, or they leave the gallbladder and travel through the bile ducts where they may get stuck, causing a blockage. 

Other causes of biliary obstruction include:

Symptoms of biliary obstruction

When you have an obstruction of one of the bile ducts, digestive fluid is unable to reach the intestines to do its job. A telltale symptom is abdominal pain on the upper right side.

Other symptoms include:

Because biliary obstruction can cause a serious infection, it requires immediate medical attention. 

Diagnosing the problem

Physical examination, symptoms, and relevant tests are used to confirm a diagnosis. We may order the following blood tests: 

Relevant imaging tests may be used as part of your workup. These tests include:

Biliary obstruction treatment

Treatment to remove the blockage is necessary to avoid serious complications. We’ll determine the best approach to relieve the blockage, and in some cases surgery may be required. Gallbladder removal is often performed if gallstones are the cause of the blockage. 

If you notice symptoms of gallbladder issues, come in to see us so we can get to the root of the problem. Treatment will help you feel better and reduce the risk of serious health complications. 

Our team of gallbladder specialists are here to solve your gallbladder problems. We have offices in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs including Gurnee, Evanston, Skokie, Libertyville, Lindenhurst, and Highland Park. Call your nearest office to schedule a visit with one of our specialists or you can request an appointment here on our website.

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