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Gallbladder Pain - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Nov 22, 2022 and last reviewed on Feb 02, 2023   -  5 min read

Abstract

Gallbladder pain is characterized by pain in the right upper side of the abdomen. Read the article to know more about gallbladder pain.

Introduction:

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located below the liver. The liver produces bile, and the gallbladder stores and releases the bile, which is a fluid that helps in the process of digesting fats. The bile then reaches the small intestine through the tubes called bile ducts. Gallbladder pain describes the pain due to a disease related to the gallbladder. It feels like sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the right upper abdomen. Gallbladder pain often comes and goes. Gallbladder pain also causes pain in the chest and back.

What Are the Causes of Gallbladder Pain?

The possible causes of gallbladder pain include:

  • Gallstones: This is one of the primary causes of gallbladder pain. Gallstones refer to the hardened masses of bile. They can be small as the size of a grain or very large as a golf ball. If the gallstone is too big, it can block the flow of bile in the bile duct and cause a gallbladder attack with severe pain in the right upper side of the abdomen. These attacks happen after a large fatty meal in the evening.

  • Perforated Gallbladder: This is caused when the gallstones create a hole in the gallbladder over a period of time. It can cause severe pain in the right upper side of the belly.

  • Abscess of the Gallbladder: Abscesses are formed due to infection when gallstones obstruct the bile duct and bile buildups in the gallbladder. Sometimes, the abscess may rupture and empty the contents into the abdominal cavity resulting in a serious infection called peritonitis.

  • Cholecystitis: Cholecystitis refers to the inflammation of the gallbladder, which may be caused due to gallstones, infection, trauma, or tumors. It can be acute or chronic. It causes pain in the right upper side of the belly.

  • Gallbladder Cancer: This is a rare disease and difficult to diagnose in its early stages. The symptoms arise when cancer has spread to other organs, and it shows pain in the right upper belly.

  • Bile Duct Cancer: If the tumor size is big, it shows symptoms like pain in the abdomen, especially on the right side, and jaundice.

  • Bile Duct Scars: Scarring of the bile ducts can block the flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder into the small intestine. This usually causes pain in the right side of the abdomen.

  • Acute Cholangitis: It is the inflammation of the bile duct due to an infection that causes right side pain.

  • Choledocholithiasis: The gallstones block the common bile duct, thus blocking the flow of bile from the liver to the intestine.

  • Biliary Dyskinesia: It is a syndrome in which the gallbladder does not empty properly. Since the bile does not empty properly, it results in pain in the gallbladder.

What Are the Other Symptoms Associated With Gallbladder Pain?

The other symptoms associated with gallbladder pain include:

  • Nausea or vomiting.

  • Fever.

  • Chills.

  • Radiating pain in the back or chest.

  • Jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and other parts of the body.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Dark urine.

  • Pale stools.

  • Sleeping on the right side can make the gallbladder pain worse.

What Are the Diagnostic Tests for Gallbladder Pain?

The doctor enquires about the symptoms, medical history, and family history.

  • Physical Examination: It is done to locate the area of pain. This test is done by the examiner placing his hand in the right upper abdominal area and asking the patient to breathe deeply. The patient stops breathing because of pain when the examiner touches the inflamed gallbladder (Murphy’s sign).

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests are done to find out any infection.

  • Ultrasound: This imaging test is used to find out the gallstones. Ultrasound can easily identify the silent gallstones, which do not cause any symptoms.

  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: This imaging procedure uses a combination of x-rays and computers to create detailed cross-sectional images of the gallbladder and bile ducts. CT scan can identify gallstones and other causes blocking the bile ducts.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of the bile ducts and gallbladder.

  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This procedure involves the use of an endoscope. An endoscope is inserted through the mouth directly to the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine to view gallstones and bile ducts.

  • Cholescintigraphy: This imaging test can show abnormalities of the gallbladder and bile ducts.

What Is the Treatment for Gallbladder Pain?

Treatment depends on the cause of the gallbladder pain.

  • For small gallstones which do not require any treatment, over-the-counter painkillers are given.

  • To relieve gallbladder pain, wet a towel with warm water and apply it to the right upper side of the abdomen for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Lithotripsy is a procedure that uses shock waves to break the gallstones.

  • Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is the most commonly preferred treatment. Surgery is done through laparoscopy or open surgery. In laparoscopy, several small cuts are made in the abdomen through which the surgical tools are inserted and the gallbladder is removed. It is a minimally invasive procedure that has a quicker recovery.

  • In open surgery, a large cut is made in the abdomen, and the gallbladder is removed. Surgery for removing the gallbladder is generally safe, but it has complications like infection and injuries to the bile ducts or surrounding blood vessels.

  • Patients usually show relief from gallbladder pain and other symptoms after the removal of the gallbladder.

What Are the Lifestyle Changes to Be Done for Gallbladder Pain?

Changing the diet can help in treating gallbladder pain. Exercise regularly for 30 minutes and maintain healthy body weight.

Foods that aggravate the gallbladder disease include:

  • Foods that are high in fats.

  • Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar content.

  • Processed foods.

Foods to be included in the diet for gallbladder disease include:

  • High fiber foods.

  • Fruits and vegetables.

  • Calcium-rich foods.

  • Green leafy vegetables.

  • Nuts and fish.

  • Vitamin C foods like berries.

Conclusion:

Gallbladder pain is mostly due to gallstones. In mild cases, dietary changes can help; in severe cases, surgery is required to remove the bladder to prevent further complications. People can live a normal, healthy life even without a gallbladder. Bile is produced and released directly into the

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Last reviewed at:
02 Feb 2023  -  5 min read

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