Gallbladder Disease

Crohn's disease can increase the risk of problems with the gallbladder.

The gallbladder is a small organ that stores bile, a fluid the body uses to break down fat in foods. Bile is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder until needed in the intestines. When someone eats, the gallbladder releases bile, which then makes its way into the small intestine.

Crohn's disease can interfere with the body's ability to reabsorb bile salts from the digestive system. This can cause a significant increase in the risk of problems with the gallbladder.

These problems include the formation of hard deposits—called gallstones—within the gallbladder. Although the stones don’t always cause problems, they can cause complications, such as inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), infection, and pain.

Gallbladder problems may require their own treatment. This can include fasting, drug treatment, and even surgery to remove the gallbladder. The gallbladder isn’t essential to the body's function and can be safely removed to prevent chronic problems. The risk is higher for Crohn's sufferers who are older than 60, and in those who have had multiple surgeries, especially where the small and large intestines meet.

Surgery is a common treatment for people with Crohn's disease. As many as three out of four people with Crohn's will undergo surgical treatments to help them deal with the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. A lot of these people will have to have multiple surgeries.

Procedures can involve widening areas of the digestive system that have narrowed from the disease, removing diseased portions of tissue, and reconnecting healthy ones. Or, in more severe cases, removal of the entire colon (large intestine) and rectum may be necessary.

Crohn's sufferers who have had a significant part of their small intestine (the section called the ileum, which reabsorbs bile salts from the digestive tract) removed have more chance of problems with their gallbladder, says Dr. R. Balfour Sartor,  professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It's usually a pretty good (section) of the ileum, usually two feet or more,” says Dr. Sartor, who is also the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America’s chief medical adviser.