gastrointestinal conditions

Gall Bladder, Pancreas and Duct Disorders

The organs and small tubes, called ducts, that work together to carry bile from the liver to the small intestine are called the biliary system. The liver makes the bile, which is a liquid that carries waste from the liver and helps your small intestine digest your food. Ducts carry part of the bile into the upper part of your small intestine and part of the bile to the gallbladder, a small organ that stores bile in case your body needs it.

The system also includes the pancreas, which makes insulin to help your body use blood sugar. The pancreas also manufactures enzymes that help break down your food and neutralize acid released by the stomach into the small intestine.

These organs and the ducts that connect them can be affected by problems that can cause you pain and/or threaten your health.


Gallbladder pain can be constant or can come in waves or "attacks." This most often is caused by one or more gallstones blocking the bile duct. These hard "stones" are most commonly made out of cholesterol.

Gallstones can also lead to the gallbladder becoming inflamed, a condition called cholecystitis. If gallstones block your bile duct, bile can back up and cause liver symptoms.

Gallstones can also block pancreatic enzymes from flowing from the pancreas into the bile duct. This can cause painful inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis.


Disorders of the pancreas can be very painful and are sometimes life-threatening. The more common ones include:

  • Diabetes, which is when the pancreas can no longer create enough insulin to help your body use blood sugar;
  • Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can either come on suddenly as acute pancreatitis or can be a long-term problem known as chronic pancreatitis;
  • Pancreatic cancer;
  • Pancreatic cysts, which are small fluid-filled sacs that can form on or in the pancreas.

Biliary and Pancreatic Ducts

The small tubes that carry bile between the liver, gallbladder and small intestine are called biliary or bile ducts. The pancreatic duct connects the pancreas to the common bile duct. Blockages in these ducts can be painful and cause fluids to build up in your organs and cause further problems.

The most common cause of blockages is gallstones. Tumors, either benign or cancerous, can also compress these ducts. Infection, surgery or inflammation can cause scarring in the ducts and make these tubes too narrow for fluid to flow through them.


Your gastroenterologist has many tools to help diagnose problems in these organs and ducts. These tools including blood tests, ultrasound and specialized X-rays called CT scans.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) allows your doctor to look closely at the biliary system and even insert dye into your ducts and organs to provide clearer images of your system. During ERCP, your doctor may be able to remove small stones or other blockages in your ducts or take small tissue samples, called biopsies.