What Happens If You Have Gallbladder Problems?

Reviewed on 2/10/2021

What Is the Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located under the liver that stores bile, a fluid that helps the body break down fat in food. 

What Are Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems?

Symptoms of gallbladder problems include:

  • Intermittent pain (biliary colic)
    • Pain is located in the upper right abdomen near the rib cage
    • Can be severe
    • Can radiate to the upper back
    • May be accompanied by nausea or vomiting 
  • Inflammation in the gallbladder (acute cholecystitis)
    • Pain in the upper right abdomen that is severe and constant and may last for days
    • Pain may worsen when inhaling
    • Fever and chills 
    • Nausea and vomiting may occur
  • Chronic gallbladder disease
  • Gallstones

What Causes Gallbladder Problems?

Causes of gallbladder problems include:

  • Gallstones (also called gallstone disease, or cholelithiasis) occur when cholesterol and other substances found in bile form stones. When stones pass from the gallbladder into the small intestine or get stuck in the biliary duct it can cause pain. This is called biliary colic, or a “gallbladder attack.” 
    • The pain of a gallbladder attack may resemble a heart attack. See your doctor right away if you have chest pain. 
  • Gallbladder inflammation (cholescystitis) 
  • Bile backing up into the gallbladder may cause the gallbladder to swell
  • Gallbladder rupture
  • Gallbladder polyps
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Acalculous gallbladder disease or gallbladder dyskinesia
  • Gangrene or abscesses
  • Congenital defects of the gallbladder
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
  • Gallbladder and bile duct tumors 

How Are Gallbladder Problems Diagnosed?

Gallbladder problems are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination, along with tests such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests
    • Ultrasound 
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
    • Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan
    • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
    • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

QUESTION

Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas. See Answer

What Is the Treatment for Gallbladder Problems?

Treatment for gallbladder problems may include: 

  • Pain medications 
  • Bile acid pill: Actigall (ursodiol) to break down cholesterol gallstones
  • Gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy)
    • Usually the main treatment for gallbladder problems
    • Done in one of two different ways:
      • Laparoscopic surgery is the most common procedure for gallbladder removal in which a surgeon uses a long, thin tube with a light and a tiny camera on the end to see inside the body (laparoscope). A few small incisions are made and the surgeon inserts the laparoscope and other special tools through the incisions to perform the operation.
      • Open surgery is performed when the gallbladder and bile duct are too infected or scarred to safely perform laparoscopic surgery. It may also be recommended in patients who are obese, have severe gallbladder disease, or pregnant women in the last trimester of pregnancy. In this procedure, a larger incision in in the belly is created to perform the surgery directly.

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Reviewed on 2/10/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/gallstones-beyond-the-basics

https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/175667-overview#showall

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/gallbladder-removal-cholecystectomy-the-basics

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/gallbladder-disease