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What is Gallbladder Sludge?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Gallbladder sludge is a buildup of particles and mucus that can occur in the gallbladder over time. In some people, the appearance of sludge causes no health problems, while others may experience complications, and in some cases, this material contributes to the development of gallstones. Patients who do experience symptoms as a result of the buildup may be asked to consider a cholecystectomy, a surgical procedure in which the gallbladder is removed, to prevent the onset of more serious symptoms.

The gallbladder is an organ nestled just below the liver. The liver secretes bile, which flows into the gallbladder and becomes concentrated. After a meal, the gallbladder pushes the concentrated bile into the digestive tract to help the body digest. The bile is key in the digestion of fats, but it also contributes to the digestion of other food components.

In some individuals, as the bile becomes concentrated, sludge also builds up in the gallbladder. The sludge classically includes particles of sodium, calcium, and cholesterol crystals, and it may include other particulate matter as well. Individuals who experience rapid weight loss are more prone to developing sludge, as are pregnant women and people taking certain medications.

If this material becomes a problem, the patient will experience abdominal pain in the upper right quadrant. He or she may also experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and the symptoms may grow progressively worse over time. The gallbladder sludge can show up in tests and medical imaging studies, and a healthcare professional can decide what the best approach to treatment might be. Often, the recommendation is a cholecystectomy to take the gallbladder out altogether, thereby neatly bypassing the problem.

People may also hear this buildup referred to as biliary sludge. Some medical professional may recommend dietary measures to manage the sludge, or medications that can help to break up the particles and allow them to pass through the bile duct. In patients for whom cholecystectomy is not recommended, a healthcare professional may request regular follow-up visits to monitor the health of the gallbladder and to confirm that the sludge is not developing into a problem.

Patients may want to be aware that it sometimes takes time to pin down gallbladder sludge as the source of a problem. Abdominal pain can be caused by a number of medical problems, and medical professionals will want to take the time to make sure that the diagnosis is accurate and the treatment is appropriate.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon302457 — On Nov 09, 2012

@FirstViolin: The best diagnosis will occur with a CT scan accompanied by an Ultrasound.

As for alternative treatments, I've been looking into the "liver detox" approach, which involves several days of drinking only apple juice and then doing a 'flush' that includes epsom salts, olive oil, and lemon juice.

Do a search and read up on this for yourself. I'm looking into it as alternative to surgery (I am experiencing severe attacks, diagnosed as Biliary Colic, and confirmed sludge via ultrasound).

By FirstViolin — On Jul 31, 2010

How can I tell if my gallbladder pain is caused by gallbladder sludge or by a gallbladder attack?

I've been having a lot of nausea and pain, but I'm not sure what the cause is -- I don't think I have gallbladder stones, but I'm not sure.

Does anybody have any advice?

By Charlie89 — On Jul 31, 2010

@TunaLine -- There are some home remedies for gallbladder sludge, but most of them are temporary measures.

One is to follow a good gallbladder diet. This involves avoiding saturated fats, pork, eggs, citrus fruits and nuts.

Many people say that eating several small meals throughout the day helps too, because it allows your gallbladder to work in short spurts, rather than over an extended period of time.

Eating fewer calories is said to help too.

However, if your doctor is talking about surgery, it seems that it may be the best way to go -- do you have gallbladder stones in addition to the sludge?

You can ask him to prescribe a ursodeoxycholic acid medication, but you may want to listen to his advice and take the surgery, particularly if you have multiple gallbladder problems.

By TunaLine — On Jul 31, 2010

What is a good gallbladder sludge treatment? My doctor is talking surgery, and I'd really rather avoid that if I can!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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