The gallbladder is a small organ that is located just below the liver and above the stomach. In adults it is approximately 8cm (3.1 in) long and 4 cm (1.6 in) in diameter. It is hollow and is divided into three parts, the fundus, the body and the neck. The neck is connected the biliary tree via the cystic duct. This joins to the common hepatic duct which becomes the common bile duct. The gallbladder is also connected to the duodenum.
What is the function of the gallbladder?
The gallbladder plays an important role in the digestive functions of the body. The gallbladder is responsible for storing the bile that is secreted by the liver. By storing the bile it allows larger amounts to be secreted into the duodenum (small intestine) during meal digestion. As the bile is stored in the gallbladder for periods of times it becomes more concentrated allowing it to be more effective when released.
As we now know the gallbladder releases the bile that is required to emulsify fats in partly digested foods. When a person eats a meal high in fat and this meal enters the digestive system it stimulates the release of cholecystokinin (CCK). The secretion of this substance signals the gallbladder to release approximately 50 mm (1.7 U.S. fl oz) of bile into the duodenum (small intestine). This concentrated burst of bile effectively breaks down the fats in the food and neutralizes acids to allow for better digestion of the food.
Some research has shown that the gallbladder also has the ability to secrete hormones that are usually attributed to the pancreas such as insulin.
Did you know?
In some cases, such as when a person develops gallstones, a gallbladder must be surgically removed. Once this has occurred the patient will be encouraged to decrease their fat intake. They may also need to take bile and enzyme supplements to aid in proper digestion.