Symptoms and Signs of Gallbladder Pain

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Gallbladder Pain

Gallbladder pain is a symptom or sign of problems in the biliary tract. Gallbladder pain is also termed biliary colic. Symptoms and signs include severe pain and nausea with or without vomiting; the pain frequency is usually intermittent. The pain may fluctuate in intensity and may last about 15 minutes to several hours and is maximal in the mid-upper abdomen or right upper abdomen. Moving does not make the pain worse. The pain may radiate to other areas such as the right shoulder or to the tip of the right scapula. Other signs and symptoms related to gallbladder pain are sweating, lightheadedness and shortness of breath.

The cause of gallbladder pain is usually either gallstones or cholecystitis. Gallstones may form in the gallbladder and may have a tendency to become lodged in the bile ducts. This can block normal bile flow and cause the ducts and/or the gallbladder tissue to stretch causing moderate to severe pain. Release of pressure reduces or stops the pain. Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) can cause bile flow reduction and/or stoppage. Other less frequent causes of bile blockage can occur like bleeding into the bile ducts or tumors pressing on the ducts.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.