Map_of_East_Tennessee_countiesMany folks in East Tennessee have certain things in common, such as spring allergies. But there’s another ailment that’s rampant in our region that’s often  unrecognized—gallbladder disease. For the surgeons at Premier Surgical Associates, gallbladder removal is one of the most common procedures they perform.

According to General Surgeon Dr. Jessica L. Vinsant, MD, of Premier Surgical Associates, there’s a high occurrence of gallbladder disease in East Tennessee. “I did my residency in General Surgery at Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City, and learned while there that there’s a disproportionate amount of gallbladder disease and gallbladder cancers in this area,” Dr. Vinsant explains.

Two risk factors may be to blame—heredity and diet.

People with relatives who’ve had gallbladder disease may be more predisposed to develop it themselves. And our region’s typically high fat diet doesn’t help. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, nearly 30% of the state’s adult population is obese, and childhood obesity is rising at an alarming rate. Eating a high fat diet and being obese sharply increases the risk of developing gallbladder disease.

“It’s hard to say if we have more gallbladder disease because of the obesity epidemic or genetics, or both,” Dr. Vinsant says, “but if we polled surgeons from the last couple generations I believe we’d verify that we’re doing a lot more gallbladder surgeries, and we’re doing it on much younger people.”

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located under your liver on the upper right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder stores bile, which helps break down fat and aid digestion. If hardened crystals in the bile form they may create gallstones, which can block the ducts that the bile passes through. Gallstones, gallbladder inflammation, and gallbladder infection can all cause severe pain, nausea or vomiting, and fever. If the pain is persistent and severe, or if the gallbladder is infected it will need to be surgically removed. Fortunately, the gallbladder is not necessary for survival.

Over 600,000 gallbladders are removed surgically in the United States every year. The surgery to remove the gallbladder is called cholecystectomy. Most gallbladders can be removed during laparoscopic surgery where a surgeon would make a small incision to insert a scope to remove the gallbladder, but if the gallbladder is too infected or scarred open surgery with a larger incision may be necessary.

Premier Surgical Associates is the largest surgical group in the Knoxville region, providing comprehensive surgical care, with referrals from across the entire East Tennessee region. To learn more about our specialties, including gallbladder surgery, visit Premier Surgical Associates online.