Gallbladder Disease

Learn about common surgeries and conditions treated at Penn State Children’s Hospital. Our Pediatric Surgery team is experienced in many areas.

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Gallbladder disease (poor function, stone disease)

Gall bladder disease is surprisingly common in pediatric patients. Pediatric surgeons at Penn State Children’s Hospital treat patients less than 18 years of age with gall bladder problems. There are two types of gall bladder disease that affect children and may require surgery:  gall stone disease and poor function.

Gall stones may form in the gall bladder causing pain or blockage of bile ducts. In some cases they may cause severe illness resulting from complete obstruction of the bile draining from the liver (obstructive jaundice) or cause inflammation of the pancreas gland (gall stone pancreatitis). If gall stones are present and are causing symptoms, the gall bladder should be removed. In very sick patients there may be procedures that must be performed prior to gall bladder removal. Gall stones are usually diagnosed by ultrasound examination. Gall bladder removal is not recommended in every patient with gall stones. The surgeon will help you decide if gall bladder removal is right for your child.

Some patients have poor gall bladder function. The gall bladder does not empty properly, resulting in pain after eating. Symptoms may be worse after eating fatty foods. It may be difficult to eat causing weight loss.  This problem is termed “biliary dyskinesia” and is diagnosed with a gall bladder function test (usually referred to as a “HIDA” scan). Some patients with abnormal gall bladder function may benefit from removal of the gall bladder. The surgeon will help you decide if gall bladder removal is right for your child.

Pediatric surgeons at Penn State Children’s Hospital are experienced in performing gall bladder surgery in children. Surgery is usually performed as an outpatient, often with an “overnight stay”. The operation is performed laparoscopically (“scope surgery” / “video-endoscopic surgery”) using small “poke-holes” into the abdomen rather than a traditional incision. Surgery is safe, but not risk-free. It should only be performed when there is a clear indication of stone disease or function problems causing symptoms. Pediatric surgeons at Penn State Children’s Hospital will discuss the pros and cons of treating gall bladder disease with surgery.

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