Gallbladder, Spleen and Appendix, Oh My! What they do, when to worry, and are they really non-vital?
August 2022 Issue — Pink Prescriptions
Gallbladder, Spleen and Appendix, Oh My!
What they do, when to worry, and are they really non-vital?
There are several organs that our human bodies can live without, but we’re especially curious about three of them.
These mystery organs are a puzzlement to most of us. About the only time one hears about the gallbladder, spleen or appendix is
when someone is having it removed. What is the point of these seemingly unnecessary organs? How can they just be removed?
We asked the experts to clue us in and not spare any details.
Diane G. Bowen, M.D.,
Centered on Wellness and
Golden Isles Center for Plastic Surgery, PC
What is the function of the appendix?
The appendix is a small, 2-to-4-inch pouch located where the large and small intestines meet. There has been great debate over the function of this tiny organ. Studies are difficult to conduct since there are only a few animals that have the organ and an animal’s appendix is very different from the human appendix. The appendix serves an important role in the fetus and in young adults. Endocrine cells of the fetal appendix have been shown to produce various biogenic amines and peptide hormones, compounds that assist with various biological control (homeostatic) mechanisms.
Research shows that the adult appendix is designed to protect good bacteria in the gut and be involved primarily in immune functions. When the gut is affected by a bout of diarrhea or other illness that cleans out the intestines, the good bacteria in the appendix can repopulate the digestive system and keep you healthy.
What is the common cause of problems with the appendix?
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix.
Common causes include:
• Infection: A viral or bacterial infection causes the appendix to swell and fill with pus. The inflammation blocks blood flow to the organ, causing it to die.
• Blockage: A buildup of fecal matter from the large intestines can cause a blockage. The tube joining the appendix to the large intestine becomes blocked leading to inflammation and swelling.
• Inflammatory bowel disease: An inflammatory disease of the intestines, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. This chronic inflammation can lead to swelling of the appendix also.
Rare causes for appendicitis include:
• Tumors, both benign and malignant.
• Abdominal trauma can cause a blockage to the appendix.
What is the main reason for removing the appendix?
Appendicitis is a medical emergency that should be treated immediately. If you have any of the below symptoms it’s best to call your doctor or go to the emergency room.
Symptoms of appendicitis include:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Excess gas or an inability to pass gas
• Loss of Appetite
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Sudden pain on the right side of your abdomen, that becomes significantly worse with movement,
such as coughing or walking.
How does it affect your health when the appendix is removed?
Typically, two to four weeks after having your appendix removed normal life resumes. Vitamins to help with gut health (with appendix or without):
• Probiotic: helps reduce post-operative sepsis, accelerates wound healing, boost immune health, lowers the risk of infection and can sometimes help prevent bouts of diarrhea caused by antibiotics
• Glutamine: It helps to sustain the balance of the gut microbiome, keeps the intestinal lining healthy, and reduces inflammation
• Vitamin C: important supplement involved in all aspects of wound healing and necessary to produce antibodies.
• Vitamin A: protects the body from infection by helping to maintain the integrity of the digestive and respiratory systems.
• Zinc: helps the body to fight off infection since it is necessary for the formation of white blood cells that helps make antibodies.
Dr. Diane G. Bowen, specializing in plastic surgery, is owner of Centered on Wellness and Golden Isles Center for Plastic Surgery, 2485 Demere Road, Suite 103A, St. Simons Island, 912-634-1993 or 912-638-0034, www.drdianebowen.com or www.centerdonwellness.net.
J. William Tsai, M.D., FACS, Southeast Georgia Physician Associates – General & Vascular Surgery
What is the function of the spleen?
The spleen plays an important role in your immune system response. When it detects bacteria, viruses or other germs in your blood, it produces infection-fighting white blood cells.
What is the common cause of problems with the spleen?
Splenomegaly is the enlargement of the spleen. Many different conditions can cause the spleen to enlarge, especially cancers and diseases that cause blood cells to break down too quickly. Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis are also linked to the abnormal size of the spleen. Other common problems include a ruptured spleen or an overactive spleen.
What is the main reason for removing the spleen?
The most common reason for removing the spleen, known as a splenectomy, is to treat a ruptured spleen, which is often caused by an abdominal injury. In severe cases, spleen removal may be necessary, especially if the enlarged spleen is causing serious complications or other treatment options are limited.
How does it affect your health when the spleen is removed?
The spleen is an important organ for fighting infections, but not essential. If it’s damaged by disease or injury, it can be removed without being life threatening. After it’s removed, the vital functions of the organ are passed on to the liver.
Dr. J. William Tsai, specializing in bariatric and general surgery, sees patients at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates – Glynn General & Vascular Surgery, 2500 Starling Street, Suite 201, Brunswick, 912-265-5125, www.sghs.org.
Harold L. Kent, M.D., FACS Glow Coastal Surgical
What is the function of the gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small sac-like structure attached to the underside of the liver which receives bile made by the liver and concentrates it. When we eat a fatty meal, hormonal signals from the intestine stimulate the gallbladder to contract and at the same time, relax the muscle that connects the common bile duct to the duodenum. This allows passage of the bile into the intestine to aid in digestion by emulsifying ingested fat.
What is the common cause of problems with the gallbladder?
The most common cause of problems with the gallbladder is gallstones. When the gallbladder concentrates bile abnormally it can form crystals which grow into gallstones. The two main types of gallstones are cholesterol stones (most common type in the U.S.) and bilirubin stones. In 10-to-15 percent of cases, gallstones will contain enough calcium to show up on a plain x-ray. Gallbladder disease is suspected in patients who have upper abdominal pain, or pain over the right shoulder blade accompanied by nausea after they consume a fatty meal. When the gallbladder contracts, gallstones can block emptying of the gallbladder causing pain, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Ultrasound can visualize gallstones and sludge in the gallbladder. If a patient has symptoms suggestive of gallbladder disease and no stones, testing the function of the gallbladder with a nuclear scan can help to determine if a patient might benefit from gallbladder removal. In these cases, pathologic examination of the gallbladder after operation frequently shows very tiny stones and/or infiltration of the gallbladder wall with cholesterol.
What is the main reason for removing the gallbladder?
Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is usually done when a patient develops symptoms of gallbladder disease and has evidence of gallstones or abnormal gallbladder function. Gallstones can cause several serious complications, including a serious infection of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), common bile duct obstruction which can lead to jaundice and a serious inflammation of the bile ducts (cholangitis) and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Occasionally a large gallstone can pass into the intestine and block it (gallstone ileus). These complications aren’t often seen anymore since almost all gallbladders are removed laparoscopically and patients don’t put off having cholecystectomy. Although gallstones sometimes are asymptomatic, their presence is the biggest risk factor for developing cancer of the gallbladder. This rare cancer is often fatal.
How does it affect your health when the gallbladder is removed?
Removing a diseased gallbladder will eliminate the chance of developing gallbladder cancer and sometimes can cure it if the cancer is very small and limited to the gallbladder wall. Most patients feel much better after their diseased gallbladder is removed. Since the gallstones are removed with the gallbladder, other serious complications of gallbladder disease (see above) are prevented as well. Most patients do perfectly well after having their gallbladders removed. Some studies in the past suggested that there might be an increased incidence of cancer in the right side of the large intestine (colon), but this has never been definitively proven to be the case. Sometimes patients can have an increased frequency of stools, which may be due to incomplete digestion of fat, something that isn’t commonly seen in a surgical practice. For over 30 years cholecystectomy has been one of the most common elective abdominal operations performed in the United States.
Dr. Harold L. Kent, specializing in Bariatric and General Surgery, is owner of Georgia Coast Surgical Med Spa and More; 3226-F Hampton Avenue, Brunswick, 912-264-9724. www.georgiacoastsurgical.com, Facebook: Georgia Coast Surgical & Med Spa.