Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
What is Biliary Sludge?
This is a buildup of mucus and particles of cholesterol crystals, sodium, and calcium along with other particle matters that can over time occur in your gallbladder. It is also known as gallbladder sludge. Your gallbladder is an organ that is just below your liver and is pear-shaped.
When your liver secretes bile it flows into your gallbladder and becomes concentrated which is then pushed into your digestive tract after a meal to help your body digest the food. This bile is the key in the digestion of fats and also helps with the digestion of other components of food.
If your body cannot flush this biliary sludge from your body to can lead to medical conditions like gallbladder inflammation, pancreatitis, along with possibly being the precursor of developing gallstones. Most people do not even realize they have this condition because your body naturally gets rid of it and only becomes a problem when it is too thick and causes a backup that can lead to cramps and pain.
What are the Symptoms of Biliary Sludge?
In the beginning you might experience:
- Abdominal pain in your upper right quadrant that can be severe
- Fever and chills
- Having pain after eating spicy and fatty food items.
As this medical condition over time becomes progressively worse your symptoms will also become worse. Sometimes it can lead to inflammation of your gallbladder and pancreas.
Causes of Biliary Sludge
When the bile becomes concentrated it can cause sludge to build up in the gallbladder of some people. Why this happens researchers have not been able to for any particular reason. The one thing that is known is that if cholesterol, which is not very soluble, remains suspended in fluid it will need to be transported in clumps of bile salts that are called micelles. It the balance between the cholesterol and bile salts tips then the bile fluid will turn into biliary sludge.
There are also certain factors that can trigger biliary sludge which can include:
- Women who are pregnant
- People who are taking certain medications
- Those who experience rapid weight loss
- Have high cholesterol levels
- Have damage to their gallbladder from using drugs or alcohol excessively
- Not eating food because you are being given nutrition via an IV drip
- Strict dieting
- Excessive fasting
How is Biliary Sludge Diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and you visit your physician to find out the cause your physician will have some tests done in which the biliary sludge will show up. They may also do medical imaging tests like a MRI or CT scan of your belly. They also do an ultrasonography of your gallbladder to identify biliary sludge which is considered to be the microscopic form of gallstones.
Biliary Sludge Treatment
In some people who have biliary sludge there are no health problems that develop so there is no treatment necessary but others may experience complications. In most cases your body will naturally flush out the over time the build-up of biliary sludge. You should see your physician when the when the build-up of biliary sludge becomes problematic and starts to cause pain for a correct diagnosis and to see if treatment is necessary and if yes, what treatment is needed.
Some cases of biliary sludge can help to contribute to gallstones developing. If you are experiencing any symptoms your physician may recommend that you have a cholecystectomy which is having your gallbladder removed surgically to help prevent any more serious symptoms.
Before your physician sends you to a surgeon to have your gallbladder removed they may have you try dietary measures to see if that will help to manage the biliary sludge. There are also some medications that you can take to help break up the particles and allow them to pass through your bile duct without causing any problems or build-up of sludge.
The medications will also help to loosen and remove any toxins from your body. If the physician prescribes medication to help treat this condition you will need to have follow-up visits to make sure that the biliary sludge is not building up and causing any problems and to monitor the health of your gallbladder.
You can find natural products and herbs that are for gallbladder sludge flush and health specialists that do recommend these “cleansing” plans but you should not use any of these until you talk to your physician because you should know what is causing this problem first and treat the problem along with any symptoms you might be experiencing.
You can also limit the amount of cholesterol you are consuming each day and try to eat smaller meals during the day instead of three large meals. You should eat a small breakfast every morning to help prevent the bile that has been sitting in the gallbladder all night from having a chance to separate once you are up and about. You should also limit the number of calories you eat a day and limit drinks and foods that are high in fat content.