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What to Know About Gallbladder Polyps

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 25, 2021

Your gallbladder is a small organ that stores bile after your liver produces it. Gallbladder polyps are abnormal growths that stick out from the lining of the inside of your gallbladder. In 95% of cases, these polyps are noncancerous.

What Causes Gallbladder Polyps?

It isn’t clear what causes gallbladder polyps. Your gallbladder is a pear-sized organ located beneath your liver. It stores and concentrates bile from your liver.

Your body uses bile to break down and absorb fat. Your gallbladder releases it into the first section of your small intestine. Bile contains bile salts, cholesterol, fat, and bile pigments.

There may be a connection between gallbladder polyps and the way your body breaks down fat. You may be more likely to get gallbladder polyps if your body doesn't break down fat well.

Types of Gallbladder Polyps

Gallbladder polyps are classified as benign or malignant. Benign means the polyp is noncancerous or not harmful on its own. Malignant means it is cancerous. There are several types of gallbladder polyps.

Cholesterolosis and pseudopolyps. Pseudopolyps are the most common type of gallbladder polyp. They are not true growths and don't develop into cancer. They're deposits of cholesterol caused by a condition called cholesterolosis. 

Pseudopolyps may indicate gallbladder disease such as chronic cholecystitis. Cholecystitis is an inflammation of your gallbladder.

Inflammatory polyps. Inflammatory polyps are often associated with inflammation of the gallbladder wall. These are often found in people who have had repeated episodes of cholecystitis and acute biliary colic. This happens when a gallstone blocks a bile duct. Inflammatory polyps don't develop into cancer. 

Adenomatous polyps. These polyps are true tumors. They are rare and often occur in people who have had gallstones. They can range in size from 5 to 20 millimeters. Polyps larger than 1 centimeter have a greater chance of developing into cancer

Adenomyomatosis. This type of polyp is more common as you age. It's considered a precancerous lesion. Only one of these polyps is usually found at a time.

Malignant polyps. This type of polyp is often larger than 2 centimeters in diameter. It is very rare. Again, only one is typically found. 

Symptoms of Gallbladder Polyps

Gallbladder polyps often happen with no symptoms. They are usually found when your doctor does a computed tomography (CT) scan or ultrasound for another reason. There is no difference in the symptoms of benign and malignant polyps. The most common symptoms are:

How Are Gallbladder Polyps Diagnosed?

Gallbladder polyps are often difficult to diagnose because there often aren't any symptoms. If your doctor thinks you may have polyps, they may do an ultrasound.  

How Are Benign Gallbladder Polyps Treated?

Treatment for benign polyps depends on the size of your polyp. Your doctor may just want to wait and follow up with regular ultrasounds for a small polyp that isn't causing any symptoms.

Your doctor may recommend removing your gallbladder for a larger polyp or if you're having symptoms. 

Risks for Malignant Gallbladder Polyps

Malignant gallbladder polyps are rare. But some factors can increase your risk of them. These include:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Having diabetes
  • Size of your polyp
  • Having gallstones
  • Single polyp
  • Having a polyp with symptoms

Recovering From Gallbladder Polyps

Gallbladder polyps are fairly common and usually benign. Your doctor may recommend that you simply follow up with ultrasounds to check for changes if you're not experiencing any symptoms from them.

Your doctor will perform a surgery called a cholecystectomy if you need to have your gallbladder removed. It's common and has a small risk of complications. You can usually go home the same day you have the surgery. But you may need to spend the night in the hospital. 

Cholecystectomies are usually done laparoscopically. This means they’re done with a small video camera and do not involve large incisions. Your doctor will make four small cuts in your abdomen and use a camera and special surgical tools to remove your gallbladder.  

You may need an open cholecystectomy if your doctor can't do the laparoscopic version. This involves one large incision and is far more invasive. It also has a greater risk of infection. You may need to spend 2 or 3 days in the hospital to recover.

Recovery from a laparoscopic cholecystectomy usually takes about 1 week. Full recovery from an open cholecystectomy can take 4 to 6 weeks.  

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

InformedHealth.org: "How does the gallbladder work?"

Jones, M., Deppen, J. Gallbladder Polyp. StatPearls Publishing, 2021.

MAYO CLINIC: "Cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal)," “Gallbladder polyps: Can they be cancerous?”

MERCY HEALTH: "Gallbladder Polyps."

North American Journal of Medical Sciences: "Diagnosis and Management of Gallbladder Polyps."

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