Blocked Bile Ducts

The gallbladder is a small pouch located under the liver. It stores the fluid, called bile, the liver creates to help process everything your child eats or drinks. As your body digests food, bile is released through a tube that connects the liver to the small intestines. Gallbladder disease occurs when bile builds up in your child’s gallbladder because of gallstones or other issues.

There are two main causes of pediatric gallbladder disease:

  • Gallstones form in the gallbladder when substances in your bile form hard particles that block your bile ducts, causing pain and inflammation. Gallstones can be small as a grain of sand or the size of a golf ball.
  • Poor gallbladder function stems from a mechanical or functional problem that limits the gallbladder’s ability to contract and expel bile, causing a blockage.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Symptoms of pediatric gallbladder disease vary according to the individual child and the severity of the disease. Common signs include:

  • Pain, mostly on the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Pain following meals
  • Intolerance of any fatty foods
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice, or yellow tinge in the whites of your eyes and skin
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis of pediatric gallbladder disease includes:

  • Physical examination and review of your family’s health history
  • Blood tests to measure the amount of bilirubin in your blood
  • Ultrasound to detect whether gallstones or infection are present
  • HIDA scan that outlines the path your bile follows and helps detects blockages

Most gallbladder disease can be effectively treated with surgical removal of the gallbladder. Long-term results following surgery are typically positive.

Our Experts in Care

The pediatric surgeons at Penn State Children’s Hospital pair advanced expertise with leading-edge technology to diagnose and treat gallbladder disease in children and adolescents of all ages.

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Why Choose Penn State Children’s Hospital for Care

Minimally Invasive Surgery

If there is a clear indication of gallstone disease or function problems, your child may need surgery. The pediatric surgeons at Penn State Children’s Hospital use minimally invasive surgical techniques whenever possible to minimize the procedure’s impact on your child’s body, reduce pain and shorten recovery time.

Surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis, often with an overnight stay. The operation is performed laparoscopically, using small “poke holes” in the abdomen in place of a traditional large incision. Your pediatric surgeon will discuss the pros and cons of gallbladder surgery to help you make an informed decision about your child’s care.

Ranked Among the Nation’s Best

Penn State Children's Hospital is proud to be one of the nation's top children's hospitals.

  • U.S. News and World Report has ranked us as one of the best children’s hospitals every year. Learn more about our rankings. We are one of only 84 children's hospitals recognized in any specialty.
  • We are one of eight hospitals in the country, and the only one in Pennsylvania, to be named as a Level 1 Children’s Surgery Center by The American College of Surgeons (ACS) for excellence in pediatric surgical care.

Support Groups

Support groups provide children and their families an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations. Learn more about the support groups offered at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

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