A contracted gallbladder is generally considered a normal physiological process that may also go by the name collapsed gallbladder. This structure is involved in the process of digesting the food we eat.
The gallbladder is a structure connected to the liver, which supplies it with bile—a yellowish-brown fluid that aids in the digestion of fats in the small intestine. Whenever we consume a fatty meal, the gallbladder contracts to excrete bile into the digestive tract. Conditions that prevent the gallbladder from doing its job, such as having gallstones, can lead to the development of gallbladder pain.
Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver that helps you easily digest and absorb fats. Under normal conditions, bile stays in the gallbladder and releases into the small intestine once it senses fatty food has been eaten.
There are essentially two situations where you will see a contracted gallbladder. The first occurs following a meal, when the body releases a hormone that signals it to contract to release its contents. The other is when the gallbladder is subjected to inflammation, which is what occurs in several diseases. Gallbladder disease often leads to scarring, which shrinks the gallbladder.
Contracted gallbladder: Causes and symptoms
Normally, the release of bile is controlled by a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK). Eating a particularly fatty meal will cause its release, signaling the contraction of smooth muscle within the gallbladder. CCK also helps to relax the sphincter of Oddi, a muscular valve that controls the flow of bile and other digestive enzymes from the pancreases into the small intestine.
Several long-standing conditions can lead to the damage of the gallbladder, leading it to become contracted abnormally, leading to symptoms. The following are some conditions that can lead to a contracted bladder:
- Gallstones: Also known as biliary calculi, these stones are formed due to imbalances in the level of cholesterol in the body. However, they may also form if the gallbladder does not empty efficiently. Gallstones may range in size from one millimeter to several millimeters and usually do not cause any problems until they are big enough to block the bile ducts, which lead to pain. Symptoms of gallstones often present as severe abdominal pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and fever. There are several types of gallstones, and these may include:
- Mixed stones: Composed of cholesterol and bile salts. This is the most common type of gallstone.
- Pigmented stones: Appearing greenish-brown in color, this type of stone is made up of bile pigments
- Cholesterol stones: Usually large and can block the flow of bile
- Biliary sludge: A mixture of small particle solids that accumulated from bile, a fluid stored in the gallbladder that helps in the process of digestion. This sludge can cause severe pain and discomfort to those affected but usually does not produce symptoms. These symptoms may resemble those of gallstones, but gallbladder sludge is instead thickened bile that has remained in the gallbladder for too long.
- Cholecystitis: Inflammation of the gallbladder is usually due to gallstones blocking the ducts that exit the gallbladder itself. Other potential causes of cholecystitis include bile duct problems and tumors leading to obstruction of bile flow. Symptoms often present as severe pain in the right abdomen, pain in the right shoulder or back, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
Related: Gallbladder sludge diet and home remedies
In a healthy individual without any abnormalities of the gallbladder, no symptoms associated with gallbladder function will be appreciated. Those with diseased gallbladders, however, will experience symptoms depending on the underlying condition. What follows are some contracted gallbladder symptoms seen in diseased states:
- Upper right quadrant abdominal pain
- Pain that radiates to the back and chest
- Pain is associated with eating fatty foods
- Nausea and vomiting
Contracted gallbladder treatment
Depending on the cause, your ideal treatment may vary. Also, depending on the frequency and severity of pain symptoms, some medical interventions will be chosen over others. The following are some of the most commonly implemented treatment options in patients suffering from gallbladder pain associated with a contracted gallbladder.
- Flushing out the gallbladder: An effective natural way to cleanse the gallbladder, by drinking liquids such as lemon juice and olive oil. This is thought to help flush out sludge that may have built up when consumed daily.
- Dietary changes: Avoiding fatty foods known to trigger gallbladder symptoms is often recommended.
- Surgery: In the most severe cases, the removal of the gallbladder entirely may be the only option for treatment. The ducts carrying digestive enzymes are often rerouted to empty into the small intestine so they may continue to perform their function.
Home remedies for contracted gallbladder
When experiencing intense abdominal pain, it is a good idea to seek medical attention as soon as possible to make sure it isn’t due to a life-threatening complication. However, if you know that you suffer from a relatively benign condition, the following home remedies can help severely contracted gallbladders.
- Eat a low-fat diet: Eating foods that are high in fat will lead to excessive gallbladder contraction. Instead, choose a diet rich in fiber such as eating leafy vegetables, whole grain cereals, and plenty of fruits.
- Drink lots of water and healthy juices: Staying hydrated is an important part of the gallbladder sludge diet, as it helps to flush out unhealthy toxins. Fresh fruit juice is also a great way to stay hydrated but may have a high-calorie content. A combination of carrot, beet, and cucumber juice is also found to be effective in treating gallbladder conditions that cause contracted gallbladder.
- Natural herbs and spices: These food items have been used for centuries to help combat health-related issues and promote healthy bodily function. Spices such as chilies, mustard, wasabi, and garlic are great for promoting digestive function and can even help reduce the formation of biliary sludge. Herbs such as mint, shallots, and coriander have also been known for being great choices for cleansing the body.
- Fresh vegetables: This should comprise more than half of your daily diet. Vegetables are naturally high in fiber, which can promote the process of digestion, helping to reduce gallbladder symptoms. Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and parsley, are rich in chlorophyll, which helps to cleanse the body naturally. It is recommended to have about four to five servings of vegetables daily, with items such as beans, cucumbers, carrots, and celery being great choices when looking for high fiber options.
- Fruits: A great natural source of essential vitamins and minerals. Consuming about three to four servings of raw fruit daily is recommended. However, it is important to note that despite being good for you, fruits still contain high amounts of calories and can lead to weight gain. Fruits such as apples, berries, melons, papayas, guavas, and pears are all great choices
If you continue to experience gallbladder symptoms despite all your efforts, seeing your doctor is a wise choice. If you choose not to seek professional care, you may experience the eventual complications of gallbladder pain, which includes discomfort while eating, weight loss, electrolyte abnormalities, and a decrease in quality of life. Seeing a medical professional is always a great idea when you are not sure why you are experiencing a particular symptom.
Related: Healthy gallbladder diet: Foods to eat and avoid for gallbladder problems