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Signs & Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems

Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems

March 29, 2023 Posted in: Health & Wellness  6 minute read time

 

For many people, the gallbladder isn’t an organ in the body that you typically think about, unless it starts causing pain. Gallbladder problems can require immediate attention, which is why knowing symptoms of gallbladder pain is important.

Page Contents:

What is the Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a 4-inch, pear-shaped sac that is located under the liver in the upper right section of the abdomen. The liver sends bile to the gallbladder to digest fat, which is typically a painless process. However, when bile ducts are blocked or the gallbladder is diseased, pain and potential problems, such as inflammation, gallstones or polyps can occur.

What is Gallbladder Disease?

Gallbladder disease is a condition in which inflammation, infection, stones or blockage in the gallbladder occurs. When identifying your symptoms, it’s important to note that there are several different types of gallbladder disease that can occur within the body including:

  • Gallstones
  • Cholecystitis
  • Chronic acalculous gallbladder disease
  • Gangrene or abscesses
  • Abnormal growth of tissue
  • Congenital defect
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
  • Tumors

 

You should especially stay vigilant of signs of gallbladder issues if you:

  • Have a high cholesterol diet
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Are over the age of 60
  • Are assigned female sex
  • Have a family history of gallbladder disease
  • Are of Native American or Mexican heritage
  • Are pregnant or just had a baby
  • Take cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Have lost a significant amount of weight

 

Be aware that you are at a higher risk of gallbladder disease if you have the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Sickle cell disease

Common Gallbladder Problems

Gallstones

The most common gallbladder problem people experience is gallstones – small, hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder. Gallstones affect nearly 20 million Americans annually, and severe cases can lead to the gallbladder rupturing, or even death. Common risk factors include obesity, rapid weight loss, and diets high in calories and low in fiber. Women, people over the age of 40, and Native and Mexican Americans are also more likely to develop gallstones.

How to Know if You Have Gallstones

So, what are the symptoms of gallstones? Gallstones don’t always show symptoms and won’t require treatment. However, gallstones that present specific symptoms should be evaluated by a medical professional. Common symptoms of a diseased gallbladder or gallstones that warrant an appointment with your doctor include:

  • Pain in the upper right region of your abdomen that is sudden or intensifying

  • Pain below your breastbone, in the center of your abdomen, that is sudden or intensifying

  • Pain in your back between shoulder blades

  • Pain in your right shoulder

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

 

More serious symptoms that warrant a doctor’s visit include:

  • High fever accompanied by chills

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

  • Intense abdominal pain that hinders you from sitting still or getting comfortable

Gallbladder Inflammation

Gallbladder inflammation, also known as Cholecystitis, is typically caused by gallstones blocking the tube that leads out of the gallbladder. Due to this blockage, a build-up of bile can occur within the gallbladder causing inflammation. 

Common cholecystitis symptoms can include:

  • Severe pain in the upper right or center abdomen

  • Pain spreading to back or right shoulder

  • Tenderness of the abdomen when touched

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

     

 

Because this blockage deters bile from properly exiting the gallbladder into the small intestine, an untreated case of cholecystitis can lead to severe or life-altering complications, such as gallbladder rupture. In these severe cases, most patients are required to undergo surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Contact a medical professional immediately if your abdominal pain is so severe that is deters you from sitting still or getting comfortable.

Gallbladder Polyps

Affecting only about 4% to 7% of adults, gallbladder polyps are protruding abnormal growths of tissue that are found within the lining of your gallbladder. They are frequently harmless, though about 5% of cases the polyps can grow and become cancerous.

There are several different types of gallbladder polyps to be aware of:

  • Pseudopolyps: also known as cholesterol polyps, are the result of a benign condition called cholesterolosis. This type of polyp occurs due to an accumulation of extra cholesterol lips that stick to the gallbladder wall.
  • Inflammatory polyps: a type of scar tissue associated with chronic inflammation of the gallbladder wall known as cholecystitis
  • Adenomyomatosis: an abnormal, but unharmful, overgrowth of the gallbladder lining that results in the development of cysts in the gallbladder wall.
  • Adenomas: Posing a .5% risk of becoming cancerous, these benign tumors are made of cells that resemble the lining of the biliary tract (the channel connecting the gallbladder to other organs in the body). 
  • Malignant polyps: cancerous cells that line the inner surface of the gallbladder, also known as adenocarcinoma.

Biliary Colic

Biliary Colic occurs when a gallstone blocks the bile duct in the gallbladder, causing a dull pain in the middle or upper region of the abdomen. This pain is typically temporary, lasting up to an hour, but can continue at a lower intensity.

If the gallstone is able to break free and unblock the duct, then the pain will stop. However, if the gallstone remains, surgical removal of the gallbladder may be necessary.

Top 5 Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease

Pain

Pain in the mid- to upper-right section of your abdomen is the most common sign that there is a problem with your gallbladder. The pain can be mild to severe, and can sometimes be felt in other areas of the body, like the back and chest.

Nausea or Vomiting

Chronic gallbladder disease can result in digestive issues, such as nausea and vomiting. Additionally, acid reflux and gas may be experienced.

Fever or Chills

An infection of the gallbladder can result in an unexplained fever or chills. Infections can be dangerous and even life-threatening, so it’s important to seek treatment before the infection spreads to other parts of the body.

Chronic diarrhea/Unusual stools or urine

Someone experiencing a gallbladder problem may notice having more bowel movements during the day than what is normal. If this continues for several months, it can be a sign that there is a bigger problem – chronic gallbladder disease. In addition, a change in color in a person’s stool or urine is another sign of a gallbladder issue. If someone is experiencing a lighter-colored stool or dark urine, it’s important to consult a physician, as this is a sign of a bile duct blockage.

Jaundice

An additional sign of a bile duct block or stone is jaundice, or yellow-tinted skin and eyes.

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing symptoms for more than a few hours, you should seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms of a bad gallbladder that linger such as abdominal pain, jaundice, or a fever can be indicative of a more serious issue. Abdominal pain that hinders you from sitting still or getting comfortable warrants medical attention, and in some cases, surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Many patients worry about the side effects of removing the gallbladder. Actually, by the time a patient presents with gallbladder disease, the gallbladder has lost its function due to disease. The bile ducts take over the storage function of the gallbladder and most patients do not notice any change in bowel function after gallbladder removal.

Are you experiencing symptoms of a bad gallbladder? Request an appointment.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Treatment options for gallbladder problems may include removing the gallbladder, antibiotics to treat infections or medications to break up the gallstones.

If you are experiencing symptoms of gallbladder problems, contact your physician to determine treatment options and how to decrease your risk for additional complications. To find a provider near you, call 859.313.2255.

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