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Not all instances of gallbladder sludge require treatment, but when they do, changes to diet, the use of certain medications, and in extreme cases surgery are the three most popular options. Sludge sometimes leads to gallstones, but not always, and it’s usually only problematic when it’s causing pain. In most cases the body will naturally flush build-up out with time. Just the same, there are certain foods and techniques — eating smaller meals throughout the day, for instance, and limiting cholesterol — that can help. Some people also find that commercial “detox” or “cleanse” routines work well, at least in the short term. Sludge that is persistent and doesn’t respond to changes in food intake may require medical intervention. Most healthcare providers start with a series of drugs, and if these aren’t effective surgery may be required. Sometimes surgeons can clean the gallbladder, but more often they just remove the gland entirely.
Gallbladder sludge, also known as “biliary sludge,” is basically build-up and residue that hasn’t managed to filter out with bile the way it should. In healthy people, the gallbladder works in conjunction with the liver to produce bile and help break down cholesterol and certain fats. Sludge can be thick or thin, and experts say that many people have the condition without even realizing it. It often comes and goes, and is usually only problematic when the sludge is thick enough to cause backups that can lead to pain and cramping.
Sludge buildup is often a precursor to gallstones, which are very painful and can be harmful to the digestive process, but the connection isn’t definite. Most people with sludge won’t go on to produce stones. The relationship does make treatment more important in serious cases, though.
The least invasive treatments involve dietary changes. Eating a small breakfast first thing each morning is a very common recommendation, since this can prevent the bile that’s been sitting in the gland overnight from having a chance to separate once a person gets up and about. Many experts also recommend eating several small meals at regular intervals throughout the day rather than consuming just two or three large servings of food, since this can help the gallbladder more effectively manage the volume.
Decreasing the number of calories consumed overall can also be helpful, and limiting foods and drinks that are high in fat and cholesterol is almost always recommended. Sludge is usually formed in response to excess cholesterol that can’t be processed, so limiting quantities consumed is a natural way to prevent buildups.
“Detox” Regimens and Cleanses
Other dietary changes begin with using supplements designed to detoxify the digestive tract. Numerous different drinks and pills can be found within most health food stores that aid in flushing the harmful substances out of the body, including the gallbladder and the areas surrounding it. An increase in caffeine within the diet has also been shown by some studies to help cleanse the sludge from the body. Ingesting more of this substance may be helpful, as long as other medical problems are not present.
A number of health specialists may also recommend strict “cleaning” plans that often look like juice fasts: plans that limit caloric intake to certain liquids and “clean” foods like fruits and vegetables. While these can be effective at helping the gallbladder cleanse itself of sludge faster than it might otherwise, most experts recommend that they only be used in moderation, and only under the care of a physician or registered dietician. Fasts, cleanses, and detoxes are popular in many markets, but not all are effective — and some can actually be harmful under the wrong circumstances. It’s usually best for people considering these sorts of dietary restrictions to talk with a healthcare provider first.
Different types of medical solutions can also be used when treating gallbladder sludge. Prescription medications can quickly help loosen and remove the toxins from the body and, along with dietary changes, can remove the problem and reduce the chance of it happening again. Painkillers can also help a person wait out his or her body’s natural cleansing process.
People who have persistent problems with gallbladder sludge or who are experiencing extreme pain from the condition may be good candidates for surgery. Sometimes surgeons can get into the gland and flush it out, but more often it simply has to be removed. The digestive process functions just fine without it in most cases. Surgically removing the gallbladder is an easy process that has a short recovery time, but it is considered to be an option of last resort because of the dangers that arise during any type of surgery.