When a Stomachache is a Cause For Concern

Although problems with the gallbladder are much more common in adults than children, gallbladder issues do occur in children, and in the last two decades, the number of children undergoing a cholecystectomy (surgery to remove the gallbladder) has tripled. At Alaska Pediatric Surgery, our goal is to arm parents with the information they need to understand their child’s condition and make well-informed decisions, and our number one priority is the health and safety of Alaska’s children.

Before we jump right into surgical interventions we provide, let’s clarify a few terms used to describe the gallbladder and gallbladder problems.

Cholelithiasis (cole-lee-li-thy-asis) – gallstones.
Cholecystitis (cole-li-sis-tie-tis) – infection of the gallbladder.
Choledocholithiasis (cole-ed-i-coe-le-thy-asis) – bile duct obstruction caused by gallstones.
Cholecystectomy (cole-lee-sis-teck-toe-me) – surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Understanding the Gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small pouch that sits just beneath the liver. Its function is to store bile that is produced by the liver before it is dispersed into the intestine. It helps to digest fats, and before meals, it may be full of bile in anticipation of helping break down foods. After a meal, it is typically small and flat, having been emptied. It is estimated that nearly 50% of people have gallstones, which are made up of cholesterol, fat, salt, proteins, and bilirubin. In most people, these stones do not cause problems, however, in some cases where they are large enough or get lodged somewhere, it can become dangerous.

What Are the Symptoms of Gallbladder Issues?

Children get stomach aches often, so it can be difficult to know what is a problem and was is normal indigestion. Each gallbladder problem presents with similar symptoms, so be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms and seek medical attention.

Cholelithiasis – As we mentioned, typically, gallstones do not cause problems, but in some cases, they may cause pain or discomfort.

Signs that your child has gallstones that require medical intervention include:

  • Pinpoint pain – in a specific location (right upper side of the abdomen) that does not seem to move or radiate, but worsens with eating or taking a deep breath
  • Fullness or excessive gas
  • Chills and shaking
  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting, or indigestion

Cholecystitis – When a gallstone is trapped in the gallbladder, it may cause an infection of the gallbladder. This infection causes:

  • Severe fever
  • Severe abdominal pain

Choledocholithiasis – When the gallstones move from the gallbladder and block the bile duct leading from the liver to the small intestine or the pancreas, it can prevent the blocked organ from functioning correctly. Symptoms of an obstruction will be similar to that of cholelithiasis, but may also include:

  • Jaundice – yellowing of the skin or whites of eyes
  • Clay-colored stool

If your child presents with any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician right away. If they suspect that your child needs a cholecystectomy, contact the pediatric surgical team at Alaska Pediatric Surgery today.

How Alaska Pediatric Surgery Can Help

At Alaska Pediatric Surgery, performing surgery on children is our specialty. We can safely perform a cholecystectomy, which is a common surgery that carries a very small risk of complications. Our pediatric surgical team generally performs a cholecystectomy laparoscopically (using a tiny scope) through the abdomen. This leaves a very small incision and doesn’t cause damage to the surrounding tissue.

The skilled pediatric surgical team at Alaska Pediatric Surgery has performed hundreds of cholecystectomies on Alaskan children and can help you feel rest assured that your child is in the best hands. Drs. Roaten, Proctor, and McAteer and their compassionate team are on your child’s case.