A liver and stomach are side by side, with a gallbladder highlighted between them.

Gallbladder Removal and IBS—Is There a Link?

Last updated: April 2023

Recently, many of our community members have been wondering if there is a link between gallbladder removal and IBS. Whether it’s the development of IBS post-removal, or the worsening of previous IBS symptoms, there are many questions surrounding these two entities.

Gallbladder removal and IBS

Current literature is pretty scarce when it comes to investigating IBS and gallbladder removal surgery (also known as a cholecystectomy). The results that have been found, are often contradictory. However, we were able to gather some more information, even though this mystery isn’t fully solved.

What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is often thought of as an unnecessary organ, with little value to the body, since, in theory, we can function fine without it. However, gallbladder does have some serious functions. Bile, which helps in digesting fats, is made in the liver. This liquid is shuttled to the gallbladder, where it is stored for future use. This prevents the body from releasing too much bile if it’s not needed, and also, protects the rest of the digestive system from its potentially harmful effects. Although it’s in the upper abdomen and shielded by the liver, the gallbladder can certainly impact the rest of the digestive system beyond its location, including the large intestine.

When does it need to be removed?

Gallbladder attacks, also known as biliary colic, can occur when there are problems with the gallbladder. Problems with the gallbladder can be indicated by symptoms like bloating after meals with high fat content, nausea after meals, and pain in the middle or right side of the abdomen. Gallstones can also become lodged in the gallbladder causing radiating pain through the abdomen and back. These kinds of issues often point towards surgical removal of the entire gallbladder itself.1,2

How does the gallbladder relate to IBS?

There hasn’t been a strongly proven link that gallbladder issues are more common in individuals with IBS, however, there could be a link to developing IBS or worsening IBS symptoms afterward. Current theories center around the unpredictable, and corrosive nature of bile to the digestive system. This includes the potential of developing worsening IBS symptoms or symptoms that mimic IBS, without any previous history with the condition. Medications are on the market to treat newly developed symptoms that mock IBS, but this isn’t necessarily the case for individuals with true IBS that worsens post-procedure.

Without an organ to store excess bile, these acids are now released to the rest of the body to cause chaos. Since IBS can occasionally develop after intestinal trauma, such as dysentery, pregnancy, or surgeries, it doesn’t seem to be a far stretch to include gallbladder removal procedures into that list.

One specific study looked at the overall quality of life changes after gallbladder removal. Although no mention of history of IBS was mentioned in the participants, the results indicated that even in previously healthy controls, many gastrointestinal issues arose or were worsened post-procedure, including bloating, bowel urgency, flatus, nausea, regurgitation, heartburn, and abdominal pain, among others. Non-gastrointestinal related issues seemed to improve for the study population, such as sexual life, physical strength, leisure activity abilities, and relationships. However, if gastrointestinal issues seemed to suffer after gallbladder removal for those without IBS, it would seem logical that this trend would remain the same, if not stronger, for those already experiencing or prone to these issues beforehand.3

As mentioned earlier, much more research needs to be conducted to strengthen or disprove the potential link between IBS and gallbladder removal surgery. However, for now, it is certainly a topic of discussion. Let us know if you’ve had your gallbladder removed, and if it has impacted your IBS in any way!

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