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What Does a Gallbladder Attack Feel Like?

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

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Ask a Doctor

I have a relatively healthy diet and I like to exercise. Recently I’ve started having intense episodes of abdominal pain. Sometimes I feel as if I can’t breathe, and I even vomited a couple times. This has been happening for the last couple weeks. Could I have a kidney stone? Might I have gallstones? What does a gallbladder attack feel like?

Doctor’s Response

The gallbladder is an organ that stores digestive enzymes that are used by the body to break down fatty foods in the diet. A diet heavy in fatty foods can lead to gallstones, which are small stone-like bodies made of cholesterol and bile salts. When you eat a meal, the gallbladder contracts to push the digestive enzymes into the intestine.

Gallstones can cause problems with the flow of digestive enzymes from the gallbladder. If gallstones block the contractions, it can be quite painful (gallbladder attack, also called biliary colic).

A gallbladder attack is characterized by pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen. The pain comes on as a squeezing feeling that progresses to intense pain that may radiate to the middle of the abdomen, the back, or the chest. Pain may also be felt in the right shoulder blade. The pain typically is at its worst about an hour after onset, and usually takes a few hours to slowly subside. The pain may also be accompanied by sweating, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting.

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Reviewed on 11/14/2018
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