What are gallbladder polyps?

Your gallbladder is a small organ. It's responsible for storing bile after your liver releases it. It also moves the bile from your liver to your small intestine. Gallbladder polyps are small growths that can form on the outside of the organ. The growths are usually not cancerous. The possibility for these growths to be cancerous is small. About 5% of gallbladder polyps are. They can be the first way a doctor can tell someone has gallbladder cancer before serious symptoms start happening.

Causes of gallbladder polyps

Unlike gallstones, there isn't a lot of research and understanding about what causes gallbladder polyps. Doctors think there's a connection to the way your body processes fat. Bile helps your body break down and digest the fat you eat. If your gallbladder doesn't help break down the fat well, you might be more likely to get polyps.

Risk factors for gallbladder polyps

There's some evidence that family history plays a role in whether you're at risk of getting gallbladder polyps. If someone else in your family has had gallbladder polyps, you may be more likely to get them. This condition isn't more common in certain genders, ages, obesity rates or medical conditions like diabetes.

Symptoms of gallbladder polyps

If you have gallbladder polyps, you might not have any symptoms. However, some people do experience some symptoms. Scientists have found there's no difference between the symptoms of people with cancerous polyps compared to those whose polyps were noncancerous, or benign.

Symptoms of gallbladder polyps include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Occasional pain in the upper right part of your abdomen

Diagnosis of gallbladder polyps

Without clear symptoms, it can be difficult for doctors to diagnose gallbladder polyps. Often, doctors discover this condition when they're checking another condition. If your doctor finds something that looks like polyps, they may remind you that the chance of gallbladder cancer is very rare. The next step in the diagnosis is a process called an ultrasound. This test shows your doctor the inside of your body so they can look at your gallbladder. They can usually tell by looking at your gallbladder if the growths are polyps. Gallbladder polyps that are larger than a half-inch around are more likely to turn into cancer over time. Most polyps are made of cholesterol.

Treatments for gallbladder polyps

If your gallbladder polyp is smaller than a half-inch wide, your doctor may just want to wait and see if it changes. They might schedule regular ultrasounds to see if the polyps grow. This is a common situation if you don’t have any symptoms.

Other treatments for gallbladder polyps include having surgery to remove your gallbladder. This is also a potential if your gallbladder polyp is larger than a half-inch wide. Regardless of whether you have surgery or not, it helps to improve your diet. This can help you avoid fatty or high-cholesterol foods. You can also start eating more fruits and vegetables.

Recovery from gallbladder polyps

Gallbladder polyps are fairly common. They're rarely cancerous and often cause no symptoms. Unless there's a very high chance of cancer or you have gallstones, which are painful, your doctor might not recommend you do anything.

You should continue to have regular visits with your doctor. That way, they can monitor any changes — and your overall health. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and having good sleep patterns are part of the process for staying healthy.

If you have any symptoms related to gallbladder polyps, it's important that you contact your doctor right away. When your doctor finds one polyp, there's a higher chance they might discover more they'll want to monitor.

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