Gallbladder disease typically occurs when bile stones – hard and pebble-like - block the cystic duct or the common bile duct. Gallbladder problems are common in adults but it has become increasingly common in children as well.
Increased screening and use of imaging technology, along with increasing childhood obesity, contribute to the rise in diagnosis of pediatric gallbladder disease.
Children can get the common type of gallstones, especially if there are other family members with a history of gallstone disease.
Genetic conditions and certain medications may also increase incidence. Prepubescent boys and girls have an equal incidence of gallstones. In adolescence, however, girls develop the disorder more frequently than boys.
Children typically develop black pigment stones (as opposed to the cholesterol, calcium carbonate, protein-dominant variety of gallstones) and have symptoms of pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, particularly after eating fatty foods or fried meals.
Often the pain resolves spontaneously, however these episodes of colicky pain occur repeatedly and can develop into a serious gallbladder condition called Acute Cholecystitis unless the gallbladder is surgically removed.
An ultrasound helps confirm the diagnosis. Complications may include chronic calculous cholecystitis and biliary colic-type symptoms.
Compete blockage of the cystic duct can result in the sudden swelling and irritation of the gallbladder, known as acute cholecystitis, which could lead to necrosis and the leaking of bile, a serious condition. Further complications could include gallstone pancreatitis, choledocholithiasis and biliary obstruction.
The treatment for symptomatic gallstones, regardless of the cause, is an operation to the gallbladder. Just as in adults, children can almost always have the gallbladder removed with a “minimally invasive” laparoscopic technique.