How to ease gallbladder pain

David Thomas Efron, M.D.

A gallbladder attack can cause sudden and severe pain. If you’ve been diagnosed with gallstones, you might worry about this happening to you. But finding a gallstone on an ultrasound or CT scan doesn’t mean you need treatment.

“Gallstones are fairly common in Western countries because our diets have more processed and fatty foods,” says David Efron, M.D., chief of acute care surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Many of us are walking around with gallstones and don’t know it. But that alone isn’t an indication that you’ll have a gallbladder attack or need it removed. Gallstones usually aren’t a problem until they cause symptoms.”

What does the gallbladder do?

The gallbladder is a storage pouch for bile, a liquid that aids digestion. The liver continually makes bile, which is stored in the gallbladder until you eat. When you consume food, the stomach releases a hormone that causes the muscles around the gallbladder to contract and release the bile.

Bile helps break down fat during digestion. It’s made up of several substances, including cholesterol, bile salts and water. Some of those substances, such as cholesterol, can pack together and form gallstones ranging in size from that of a grain of sand to a golf ball. Up to 15% of people have gallstones, but most never become problematic.

Gallbladder Attack Symptoms

When gallstones get stuck while traveling through the duct (tube) to the stomach, they block the outflow of bile, which causes the gallbladder to spasm. This usually leads to sharp pain, like being cut by a knife, under the rib cage in the upper right side or center of the abdomen. The pain can be so severe that it takes your breath away. You might mistake it for a heart attack, says Efron.

Other common symptoms of a gallbladder attack include:

  • Pain that lasts several hours
  • Abdominal pain after eating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Light-colored stool
  • Brownish-colored urine
  • Yellowing of skin or whites of eyes

Seek immediate medical care if you are having some of these symptoms.

How long does a gallbladder attack last?

The attacks usually last several hours. Nothing can be done to stop an attack while it’s happening. The pain typically subsides once the gallstone has passed.

“Gallbladder attacks are often so painful that people end up in the emergency room,” says Efron. “That’s a good thing because it’s important to get evaluated when you have severe pain. Several serious conditions, like heart attacks, ulcer perforations and appendicitis, have similar symptoms to gallstones and need to be ruled out. Also, sometimes gallstones don’t pass on their own and can lead to complications like infection in the gallbladder or pancreas inflammation.”

How can gallbladder problems be prevented?

Gallstones are more likely to form if there’s an overabundance of cholesterol in the bile. So, the best way to prevent an accumulation of gallstones is to reduce your fatty food intake. Diets recommended for lowering high cholesterol levels, such as the Mediterranean diet, are helpful if you have gallbladder problems.

What treatment is available for gallbladder stones?

Medication can ease the pain of a passing gallstone. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if your gallbladder or surrounding organs are infected (cholecystitis).

If gallbladder attacks are a reoccurring problem, the best approach is to remove the gallbladder. “We don’t remove individual stones because new ones just reform,” says Efron. “If your gallbladder is chronically obstructed with stones, it’s not functioning as a healthy part of the digestive system anyway — it’s just causing problems.”

Gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy) is frequently performed laparoscopically. During this minimally invasive procedure, a tiny camera is inserted into one of several keyhole-size incisions to guide the surgeon in the removal process. The benefits of laparoscopic surgery include less need for pain medication and a quicker recovery.

Can you digest food without a gallbladder?

You can still digest food, including fat, after your gallbladder is removed. Your liver will continue to produce bile. Instead of being stored in the gallbladder until you eat a meal, the bile is released directly into the intestines as it’s made. You don’t have to worry about following a strict diet — just eat healthy.

“Some people will have a little bit of diarrhea in the postoperative period,” reports Efron. “But that usually settles down after about a month. The body adjusts and you can function just fine.”

This article was co-authored by Joshua Ellenhorn, MD. Joshua Ellenhorn, MD, is a board certified surgeon with advanced training in the fields of surgical oncology, minimally invasive surgery, and robotic surgery. He runs a private practice at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California and is a nationally recognized leader in surgery, cancer research, and surgical education. Dr. Ellenhorn has trained more than 60 surgical oncologists and has spent over 18 years in practice at the City of Hope National Medical Center, where he was a professor and the chief of the Division of General and Oncologic Surgery. Dr. Ellenhorn performs the following surgical procedures: gallbladder surgery, hernia repair, colorectal cancer, skin cancer and melanoma, gastric cancer, and pancreatic cancer. He earned an MD from the Boston University School of Medicine, completed fellowships at the University of Chicago and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and finished his residency in surgery at the University of Cincinnati.

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Gallbladder pain, which occurs in the right upper part of the abdomen, can be mild to severe. While gallstones are a common cause, you should see your doctor to rule out other issues. For mild pain, over-the-counter pain medication can offer the most immediate relief. In the long-term, dietary changes can lower your risk for gallstone flare-ups. For severe pain or for pain accompanied by fever or jaundice, seek immediate medical attention.

How to ease gallbladder pain

What Does Your Gallbladder Do?

This small, pear-shaped pouch is tucked right under your liver. It stores a fluid called bile your liver makes. Bile breaks down fat. When you eat, your gallbladder sends bile through ducts to your small intestine to help you digest food.

How to ease gallbladder pain

What Are Gallbladder Attacks?

When bile can’t get into or out of your gallbladder, it causes the symptoms that make up an attack. Too much bile in your gallbladder irritates it and causes inflammation and pain.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Common Symptom: Pain

A gallbladder attack usually causes a sudden gnawing pain that gets worse. You may feel it in the upper right or center of your belly, in your back between your shoulder blades, or in your right shoulder. You might also vomit or have nausea. Pain usually lasts 20 minutes to an hour.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Other Symptoms

Backed-up bile can enter your bloodstream and cause your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. Doctors call this jaundice. You could have a fever or chills, and your urine might turn the color of tea. Your poop also may be light-colored.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Common Cause: Gallstones

Too much cholesterol or bilirubin in your bile can make crystals form. They clump together and make stones. These could be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. They aren’t a problem unless they get stuck in your bile ducts and block bile from leaving. This is the most common cause of gallbladder attacks.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Other Causes

Any other kind of condition that keeps your gallbladder from working the way it should can cause an attack. These include cholecystitis (swelling and redness in the gallbladder), tumors, abscesses, sclerosing cholangitis (scarring of your bile ducts or gallbladder), abnormal tissue growth, or chronic acalculous gallbladder disease, which keeps your gallbladder from moving the way it needs to in order to empty.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Your Sex Makes Them More Likely

Women aged 20 to 60 have a higher chance of getting gallstones than men do. Extra estrogen in your body from pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, or birth control pills may be why. After 60, though, men and women are at equal risk.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Weight and Diet Play a Role

If you eat foods high in calories and refined carbohydrates and don’t get much fiber, you raise your risk of a gallbladder attack. You’re also more likely to get them if you’re obese. Quick weight loss can bring them on, too. For example, your risk goes up after weight loss surgery.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Age, Race, and Genes Raise Your Risk

As you get older, you’re more likely to have both gallstones and a gallbladder attack. Once you hit 40, your risk starts to rise. If someone in your family had gallstones, you’re more likely to get them. Native Americans and Mexican Americans tend to get gallstones more often than other races do.

How to ease gallbladder pain

Other Conditions That Boost the Odds

Certain conditions can cause gallstones and raise your risk of a gallbladder attack, such as cirrhosis (a disease in which your liver stops working because of disease or injury), infection, sickle cell anemia, intestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease that keep you from getting certain nutrients, metabolic syndrome, high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol levels, and diabetes.

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Cleveland Clinic: “Could Your Abdominal Pain Actually Be Gallstones?”

Mayo Clinic: “Gallstones.”

Harvard Medical School: “Attack of the gallstones.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Gallstones.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Gallbladder Disease.”

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Gallbladder Attack & Gallbladder Symptoms

  • Gallbladder Pain/Gallbladder Attack
  • Gallbladder Removal Surgery

Pain or pressure in your belly could be from a gallbladder attack. A gallbladder attack is also called a gallstone attack. If gallstones are affecting your gallbladder, you could experience pain in the upper right or middle of your abdomen.

Gallbladder Attack

The pain you feel from a gallbladder attack feels different from other stomach pain. It could be:

  • sudden or sharp and last for minutes or hours.
  • dull or cramping pain that gets worse in the upper right part of your abdomen.
  • sharp pain in the middle of your abdomen, just below your breastbone.
  • intense pain that makes it difficult to sit still.
  • pain that doesn’t get worse or change when you move.
  • tenderness of your abdominal area.

A gallbladder attack often happens after you have eaten a large meal. This is because your body makes more bile when you eat fatty foods. Your attack may also happen in the evening.

Gallbladder Symptoms

Other symptoms of a gallbladder attack include:

  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • fever,
  • chills,
  • yellowing skin and eyes,
  • dark or tea-colored urine, and
  • light or clay-colored bowel movements.

What Is the Gallbladder?

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ. It is located in your upper right abdomen, below your liver. The main job of your gallbladder is to store bile (also called gall), made by your liver. Bile helps your body digest fats and vitamins.

Every time you eat, your gallbladder releases bile. The bile then flows down into your small intestine through tubes called ducts. If something blocks the gallbladder duct or the ducts coming from the liver, you may feel pain in the middle or right side of your belly.

Gallstones are the top causes of gallbladder pain.

What Are Gallstones or Gallbladder Stones?

Gallstones are hard particles that develop in the gallbladder. They can be as small as a grain of sand or the size of a golf ball. Your gallbladder can develop a single large gallstone, hundreds of tiny stones, or both small and large stones.

When these gallstones block the ducts of the gallbladder, they can cause a gallbladder attack (also called biliary colic).

Types of Gallstones

The two types of gallstones are cholesterol and pigment stones:

  1. Cholesterol stones are usually yellow-green in color. They are cholesterol that has gotten hard. Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that is a normal part of your bloodstream.
  2. Pigment stones are dark in color. They are made of bilirubin. Bilirubin comes from the breakdown of old red blood cells.

What Causes Gallstones?

Gallstones form when the bile in your bladder is imbalanced. Scientists don’t completely understand why this happens. Also, if your gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough, you may get gallstones.

Gallstone Symptoms

Sometimes, gallstones don’t cause any symptoms and you may not even know you have them. Many people have gallstones and never know it. But, if a gallstone blocks one of your ducts, you may have gallbladder pain.

What do Gallstones Look Like?

Gallstones look like small yellow stones. They are not related to kidney stones, which pass through the ureters and can cause bladder or kidney problems. Gallstones pass into the intestine, which usually does not cause problems. Gallstones cause pain when they block the ducts that carry bile from the liver into the intestine.

Contact your health care provider or go to your local emergency room if your abdominal pain becomes unbearable.

Gallstones Treatment

Gallstones that do not cause symptoms do not need treatment. However, if you have a gallbladder attack or other symptoms, you should get treatment. Your primary care doctor can order tests that may show inflammation or an injury to the liver.

He or she may also send you for an ultrasound or a CAT scan. An ultrasound and CAT scan provide images of your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and gallstones (if you have them). They can show inflammation or blockage.

If a person has had one gallbladder attack, they will probably have more episodes.

Gallbladder Removal

The most common treatment for gallstones is surgery to remove the gallbladder. If you cannot have surgery, there are nonsurgical treatments that dissolve cholesterol gallstones. However, these treatments do not last as long and are not as good at surgery at permanently taking away your symptoms.

The gallbladder is not an essential organ, which means you can live normally without one. Once a doctor removes your gallbladder, bile from your liver will flow through the hepatic and common bile ducts. It will go directly into the duodenum (first part of your intestine), instead of being stored in the gallbladder.

Non-Surgical Treatment for Gallstones

A gastroenterologist or interventional radiologist may use lithotripsy (stone breakdown) to break apart the stones in the gallbladder. This makes them easier to pass. It can get rid of the gallstones that are already formed.

It will now, however, prevent your gallbladder from making more stones later. Most people who have this procedure go on to have gallbladder attacks later in life.

A medication called urosdiol can also be prescribed by your primary care doctor if you do not want to have surgery. This medication can help to prevent cholesterol stones from forming. It does not work as well as surgery, but some people do have lasting relief of their gallstone attacks with this medication.

An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a procedure used to remove gallstones that are stuck in the bile duct. This can sometimes be necessary in addition to removing the gallbladder if the stones cannot be removed during your surgery.

When to See a Doctor for Gallbladder Pain

A gallbladder attack is an emergency that you should get treatment for immediately. Don’t ignore pain and get help from a doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Chills
  • Intense pain
  • Fever
  • Yellowing skin
  • Yellowing of the whites of your eyes

If you experience these symptoms, contact your primary care doctor or go to your nearest emergency department for an evaluation. You will need bloodwork and an imaging scan (ultrasound or CAT scan) to confirm that your pain is caused by gallstones.

You can receive a referral to our surgeons from your primary care doctor. You can also call our office at 801-213-2084 for same-day appointments.

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What is cholecystitis?

Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder, often caused by gallstones. It can be very painful and usually needs prompt medical treatment.

The gallbladder is a small organ underneath the liver on the right side of the upper abdomen. It stores a thick dark green fluid called bile which the liver produces to help with digestion.

What are the symptoms of cholecystitis?

Symptoms of cholecystitis include:

  • an intense pain in the middle or right side of the upper abdomen, or between the shoulders
  • indigestion, especially after fatty food
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • fever

Symptoms often appear after someone has eaten a large, fatty meal.

If you are in pain, don’t ignore it because cholecystitis is a serious condition can lead to complications. An infection in your abdomen can be very serious. See your doctor if the pain lasts for more than 3 hours. If the pain is very bad, go straight to your nearest hospital emergency department.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes cholecystitis?

Cholecystitis most frequently occurs when gallstones (stones that form within the bile coming down from the liver) block the tube leading out of the gallbladder. This results in a build-up of bile, which causes inflammation.

Cholecystitis can also be caused by other problems with the bile duct, such as a tumour, problems with blood supply to the gallbladder, and infections.

The condition might settle down on its own, but cholecystitis tends to come back. Most people eventually need surgery to remove the gallbladder. Sometimes, cholecystitis can lead to liver inflammation, a serious infection, a torn gallbladder, or the death of some of the tissue in the gallbladder.

How is cholecystitis diagnosed?

If a doctor suspects you have cholecystitis, they will examine you and ask you about your medical history. They will usually order an ultrasound of your abdomen. They may also do a blood test to look for signs of liver inflammation or infection.

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How is cholecystitis treated?

Cholecystitis can sometimes settle down if you eat a low-fat diet. You may also be given medicine to dissolve gallstones.

If you go to hospital, you will be fed and hydrated through an intravenous drip and you may have antibiotics to fight infection. You will probably also need medicine for pain relief.

Most people have their gallbladder removed 2 to 3 days after they are admitted to hospital. In this operation, the gallbladder is removed using laparoscopy. This is a type of keyhole surgery performed in the belly area. You don’t need your gallbladder, and after the operation, bile will flow straight from your liver to your small intestine.

Resources and support

If you need to know more about gallstones, or to get advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Last Updated September 2020 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Daron Gersch, MD, FAAFP

Table of Contents

How to ease gallbladder pain

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are hard deposits that can form inside the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ just under your liver. It stores bile, the digestive fluid that is made by the liver. Sometimes the bile becomes solid and forms stones. Some are as small as a grain of sand. Others can be the size of a golf ball.

Symptoms of gallstones

Most people who have gallstones never experience symptoms. These are called silent gallstones. Sometimes, a gallstone can leave your gallbladder and go into a bile duct. If a gallstone gets stuck in that passageway and blocks it completely, you may experience:

  • Severe pain in the right upper part of your belly.
  • Pain in your upper back.

This is known as a gallbladder attack. The pain usually starts suddenly and lasts for several hours. Complete or partial blockage can also cause your gallbladder to get irritated and inflamed. If this happens, you may:

  • Have pain that lasts several hours.
  • Develop a fever.
  • Vomit or feel nauseated.

In addition, your skin may turn a yellowish color, known as jaundice.

Gallbladder attacks tend to happen after heavy meals. They’re more likely to happen in the evening or during the night. They stop when the gallstones move and are no longer lodged in the duct. If the duct remains blocked for more than a few hours, complications can occur. Call your doctor right away if you’re experiencing a gall bladder attack that lasts more than several hours.

What causes gallstones?

Gallstones are causes by imbalances in the substances that make up bile.

Most gallstones (80%) are made of cholesterol. Normally, acids in the bile break down cholesterol. But a high-fat diet can lead the liver to produce extra cholesterol that the acids can’t break down. This leads the excess cholesterol to solidify. Other gallstones are made of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellowish pigment in bile that is produced when red blood cells break down. These stones are formed when there is too much bilirubin in the bile.

Gallstones may also form if the gallbladder doesn’t empty itself completely.

You’re more likely to get gallstones if you:

  • Are a woman.
  • Are more than 60 years of age.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Have a family history of gallstones.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Take birth control pills.
  • Eat a diet high in fat.
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Are on a low-calorie diet and have recently lost weight very quickly.

How are gallstones diagnosed?

Gallstones can be hard to diagnose because they share symptoms with other conditions. Your doctor will do a physical exam to look for signs of gallstones. This will include looking for yellowing of the skin and tenderness in the abdomen. He or she may order blood tests. They may also order imaging tests. These could include an ultrasound or CT scan, which will make pictures of your gallbladder and bile ducts. If your doctor thinks you have a gallstone stuck in a bile duct, they could try to remove the stone.

Can gallstones be prevented or avoided?

In most cases, gallstones can’t be prevented or avoided. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding rapid weight loss could reduce your risk.

Gallstones treatment

Your treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms and what the doctor finds from the tests.

  • No treatment.If the gallstones are floating free and you have no pain, you won’t need treatment.
  • Wait and see.If you have one gallbladder attack, your doctor may want to take a wait-and-see approach. The problem may solve itself. Then if you have more attacks, your doctor may recommend surgery.
  • Surgery. Once you have one gallbladder attack, the chance of having another one is high (up to 70%). Many doctors will suggest surgery to remove your gallbladder to prevent a future attack. If your gallbladder is irritated or inflamed, most doctors will want to take it out right away. The surgery is most often done with laparoscopic surgery. This means that small tools are inserted into small incisions in your abdomen to remove your gallbladder. The surgery is safe and effective. It limits your hospital stay to about 1 day. Without surgery, the gallbladder can get infected. It might even burst, causing further problems.

Are there other treatments?

Other treatments are available for people who would have a high risk in surgery. This could be because they are elderly, or have heart problems or lung disease. However, gallstones usually return when they aren’t treated with surgery. Other options include:

  • Sound wave therapy.This can break up the stones so they can move into the intestine without problem. But not everyone can receive this treatment. If you have more than 1 gallstone, if your gallstone is large, or if you have other medical conditions, you may not be able to receive sound wave therapy.
  • Medicine. You might be able to take a pill to dissolve the stones. This pill doesn’t work for everyone and can be expensive. It can take 2 years or longer to work, and gallstones could return after you finish treatment.

Surgery is the best way to cure symptomatic gallstones. Talk with your doctor about what is right for you.

Cholecystitis is a big word for the simple — but potentially painful — problem of gallbladder inflammation.

How to ease gallbladder pain

The gallbladder is a small organ that holds bile from the liver and releases it into the small intestine to help with digestion. (1)

When a gallstone forms, it can wedge itself in the ducts that release bile — causing bile buildup and a painful condition called cholecystitis. (2)

Cholecystitis, or gallbladder inflammation, occurs when bile can’t circulate out of the gallbladder as it normally does.

When bile builds up, it causes the gallbladder to thicken, harden, swell, and become irritated.

The abdomen becomes painful, and infection can occur if bile can’t flow properly. (3)

Common Symptoms of Cholecystitis

The most common symptoms of cholecystitis are:

  • Severe and sudden pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
  • Pain that spreads to your right shoulder or back
  • Pain after eating a meal
  • An abdomen that’s tender to the touch
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Bloated belly (2,3)

Symptoms of cholecystitis often occur after a large or fatty meal.

Although it’s easy to mistake the symptoms of cholecystitis for some other simple problem, it’s important to get a proper medical diagnosis.

Untreated cholecystitis can lead to complications, so don’t brush off these symptoms as just a little indigestion or a stomach bug. (3)

Acute vs. Chronic Cholecystitis

Cholecystitis can be chronic — persistent and long-lasting swelling and damage to the gallbladder — or acute, a sudden “attack” that causes swelling and irritation of the gallbladder.

Acute cholecystitis involves pain that begins suddenly and usually lasts for more than six hours. It’s caused by gallstones in 95 percent of cases, according to the Merck Manual.

An acute attack usually goes away within two to three days, and is completely resolved within a week. If it doesn’t resolve within a few days, you may have a more severe complication.

Acute cholecystitis can develop into chronic cholecystitis.

Chronic cholecystitis is defined by repeated attacks of pain caused by blockages in the biliary ducts, almost always due to gallstones.

Pain in chronic cholecystitis tends to be less severe than in acute cholecystitis and doesn’t tend to last as long. Fever is also rare in chronic cholecystitis.

If you have chronic cholecystitis, your gallbladder may become scarred and small, with a thick outer wall. It may also contain sludge (a thick substance that pollutes the gallbladder and can’t be absorbed) or calcium deposits, which can harden and further damage the organ. (4)

Common Causes of Cholecystitis

Some of the most common causes of cholecystitis include:

  • Gallstones becoming lodged in the ducts of the gallbladder, preventing bile from emptying
  • Scarring in the bile ducts leading to blockage, which can rarely happen without gallstones
  • A tumor in the liver or pancreas
  • Reduced blood flow to the gallbladder, sometimes due to damaged blood vessels from a severe illness
  • A bacterial or viral infection that strikes the bile duct system, which empties bile from the gallbladder (this may be a complication of AIDS) (3)

A rare form of acute cholecystitis that isn’t due to gallstones — called acalculous cholecystitis — tends to occur after the following events and conditions:

  • Major surgery
  • Serious illness, infection, or injury
  • Long-term intravenous (IV) feeding
  • Extended fasting
  • Immune system deficiency (4)

Diagnosing Cholecystitis

Cholecystitis can be easily diagnosed through a physical exam, medical history, and an ultrasound or other imaging test.

In most cases, an ultrasound can detect gallstones, in addition to fluid around the gallbladder and thickening of its walls. The procedure can also reveal tenderness in the area.

Diagnostic Tests for Gallbladder Disease

A computed tomography (CT) scan may be used if an ultrasound doesn’t produce adequate images.

If acute cholecystitis isn’t seen on other imaging tests, another procedure called a hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan may be used.

This imaging test involves injecting a small amount of a harmless radioactive substance into your arm. A device called a gamma camera is then used to create images as this substance travels from your bloodstream to your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and small intestine. (3)

  • Definition
    • What Is the Function of the Gallbladder?
  • Gallstones
    • What Are Gallstones?
  • Symptoms
    • What Are Symptoms of Gallstones?
  • Attack
    • What Is a Gallbladder Attack?
  • Diet
    • What Are the Best Foods to Eat When Your Gallbladder Is Acting Up?
  • Guide
    • What Are the Best Foods to Eat When Your Gallbladder Is Acting Up? Topic Guide

What Is the Function of the Gallbladder?

How to ease gallbladder pain

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 Gallstones?

Gallstones (cholelithiasis) are small stones that form inside the gallbladder. They can range in size from tiny specks to as large as the entire gallbladder, up to 6 inches long. Most are smaller than 1-inch.

There are two types of gallstones:

  • Cholesterol gallstones
    • Made of cholesterol
    • Usually yellow-green in color
    • 80% of gallstones are this type
    • These are more likely to respond to non-surgical treatment
  • Pigment gallstones
    • Made of bilirubin
    • Smaller and darker than cholesterol stones
    • 20% of gallstones are this type

What Are Symptoms of Gallstones?

Symptoms of gallstones may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen, usually on the right side, just under the ribs
  • Pain in the shoulder or back on the right side
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Gas
  • Chest pain

What Is a Gallbladder Attack?

A gallbladder attack occurs when a gallstone blocks a bile duct, resulting in severe, stabbing pain in the belly that can last several hours. Medications may be tried first, but they can take months to years to dissolve the stones, and gallstones often return.

Symptoms of a gallbladder attack include:

  • Severe, stabbing belly pain
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Back or shoulder pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain after eating
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Tea-colored urine and light-colored stools

What Are the Best Foods to Eat When Your Gallbladder Is Acting Up?

Diets high in fat and cholesterol may contribute to the development of gallstones.

The best foods to eat that may help minimize gallbladder pain include:

  • Low fat foods
  • Minimally processed foods
  • Plant-based proteins (beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa)
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Sprouted nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Lean meats and fish

Foods that may trigger gallbladder attacks include:

  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods
  • Dairy products
  • Sugary foods
  • Eggs
  • Acidic foods
  • Carbonated soft drinks

Cholecystitis (ko-luh-sis-TIE-tis) is inflammation of the gallbladder. It usually occurs when drainage from the gallbladder becomes blocked (often from a gallstone). It may be acute (come on suddenly) and cause severe pain in the upper abdomen. Or it may be chronic (multiple recurrent episodes) with swelling and irritation that occurs over time.

Your doctor may use abdominal ultrasound, abdominal CT, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) or nuclear imaging to help diagnose your condition. Treatment may include fasting, antibiotic medication and having a drainage tube placed in the gallbladder. However, because it can often reoccur, the most common treatment is to have surgery to remove your gallbladder.

  • What is cholecystitis?
  • How is cholecystitis diagnosed and evaluated?
  • How is cholecystitis treated?
  • Which test, procedure or treatment is best for me?

What is cholecystitis?

Cholecystitis means inflammation of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that sits beneath your liver and stores bile. If your gallbladder is inflamed, you may have pain in the upper right or mid-portion of the abdomen and you may be tender to the touch there.

Bile is made in the liver. The gallbladder stores bile and pushes it into the small intestine where it is used to help digest food. When the drainage pathway for the bile stored in the gallbladder (called the cystic duct) becomes blocked, usually by a gallstone, the gallbladder becomes swollen and may become infected. This results in cholecystitis. The cystic duct drains into the common bile duct, which carries the bile into the small intestine. A gallstone may also become stuck in the common bile duct. This condition (choledocholithiasis) requires a procedure to remove or bypass the blockage.

Cholecystitis may be:

  • Acute (occur suddenly) – This inflammation often causes severe pain in the mid or right upper abdomen. Pain can also spread between the shoulder blades. In severe cases, the gallbladder may tear or burst and release bile into the abdomen, causing severe pain. This can be a life-threatening situation that requires immediate attention.
  • Chronic (multiple episodes of inflammation) – Recurrent bouts of mild swelling and irritation/inflammation will often damage the wall of the gallbladder causing it to thicken, shrink and lose proper function

Other symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • abdominal pain that gets worse when taking a deep breath
  • abdominal pain and cramping after meals (especially fatty foods)

How is cholecystitis diagnosed and evaluated?

Your doctor may order blood tests to see if you have a gallbladder infection. Often, the white blood cell count in our blood may become elevated as a sign of the infection. One or more of the following radiology tests also may be done:

    Abdominal ultrasound: This is often the first test done to evaluate for cholecystitis. Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce pictures of the gallbladder and the bile ducts. It is used to identify signs of inflammation involving the gallbladder and is very good at showing gallstones.

For information about ultrasound procedures performed on children, visit the Pediatric Abdominal Ultrasound page.

How is cholecystitis treated?

Your doctor may suggest:

  • fasting to rest the gallbladder
  • a special, low-fat diet
  • pain medication
  • antibiotics to treat infection

However, because the condition may come back often, your doctor may recommend you have your gallbladder removed using either:

  • laparoscopic surgery. The surgeon uses the belly button and several small cuts to insert a laparoscope to see inside the abdomen and remove the gallbladder. You will be asleep for the surgery.
  • open surgery. The surgeon makes a cut in the abdomen and removes the gallbladder. You will be asleep for the surgery. See the Anesthesia Safety page for more information.

If you cannot have surgery, your doctor may drain bile from the gallbladder. This may be done by:

  • Percutaneous cholecystostomy: This procedure is done by a radiologist. It places a tube through the skin directly into the gallbladder using ultrasound or CT guidance. Blocked or infected bile is removed to reduce inflammation. This procedure is typically done in patients who are too sick to have their gallbladder removed. You will be sedated for this procedure. The tube typically has to stay in for at least a few weeks.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This procedure is typically done by a doctor who specializes in abdominal disorders (a gastroenterologist). A camera on a flexible tube is passed from the mouth through the stomach and into the beginning of the small bowel. This is where the common bile duct meets the small intestine. The valve mechanism (called the sphincter) at the end of the bile duct can be examined and opened to clear blocked bile and stones, if necessary. Doctors can also insert a small tube into the main bile duct and inject contrast material to better see the duct. They also may use a laser fiber to destroy small gallstones or use a basket or balloon to retrieve stones or stone fragments. All of this may be done without making any incisions in the abdomen. This procedure poses a small, but real risk of pancreas inflammation or injury. You will be sedated for this procedure.
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC): This procedure is done by a radiologist. A needle is placed in the bile ducts within the liver using imaging guidance. Contrast material is injected to help locate gallstones that may be blocking bile flow. Some stones can be removed during a PTC. Others may be bypassed by leaving a small stent in place to allow bile to get around the area of blockage. This helps reduce inflammation. You will be sedated for this procedure. See the Biliary Interventions page for more information.

There are many different ways of controlling pain if you have advanced gallbladder cancer.

The pain may be in other parts of the body if the cancer has spread. This could be the spine or abdomen. The main way of controlling pain is using painkillers.


Pain can usually be very well controlled. It should be possible for you to be pain free at least when you are resting, if not all the time. The most important thing with any painkiller is to take it regularly.

If your pain relief isn’t working, or you are getting pain before the next dose tell your doctor or nurse. They can work out if you need different painkillers or to increase the dose.

If your treatment team can’t control your pain you can ask them to refer you to a pain control team or symptom control team.

Different painkillers

There are many different painkillers. Some are available over the counter from your chemist, such as paracetamol. These drugs can be very useful for mild pain, but they don’t control more severe pain. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse if you’ve been taking a mild painkiller and you are still in pain.

You might need to have a stronger painkiller such as codeine or dihydrocodeine (DF118), perhaps with an anti inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Nurofen) or diclofenac (Voltarol).

If the pain is still not controlled you might need a stronger morphine-type painkiller.

Strong painkillers

You might need a strong painkiller, such as morphine. It is a strong opioid and a very effective painkiller. There are other types of strong painkiller.

When you have them in the right doses and at the right times, they can control pain well. They might cause side effects at first but these usually wear off after a day or so.

You can have strong painkillers in different ways, such as:

  • a liquid or tablet every 2 to 4 hours
  • slow release tablets, taken every 12 hours
  • through a drip
  • through a pump connected to a small needle under the skin
  • as suppositories
  • skin patches

Side effects of strong painkillers

Most strong painkillers have side effects. They cause constipation and so it helps to start taking regular stool softeners or laxatives as soon as you begin regular painkillers. Ask your nurse or doctor to prescribe them.

You might feel dizzy, light headed and drowsy but this usually wears off after a couple of days.

Painkillers sometimes make you feel sick at first so you might have anti sickness medicines for the first week or so.

Chemotherapy or radiotherapy to control pain – gallbladder

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help to control pain. They can shrink a tumour that is pressing on a nerve or another organ and causing pain. You might be able to cut down on your painkillers after having treatment.

Nerve blocks

If you have pain that is very difficult to treat, your doctor may suggest a nerve block. This is a way of killing or deadening a nerve to stop it causing pain.

A nerve block is named after the nerves that it blocks.

The coeliac plexus is a complicated web of nerves at the back of the tummy (abdomen). A coeliac plexus block stops signals that can cause you to feel pain in your upper abdomen.

Types of nerve block

Different nerves can be blocked by:

  • injecting local anaesthetic and alcohol into the nerves
  • using radio waves (radio frequency ablation) or a laser to destroy the nerves

Your doctor will explain what type of nerve block they want to do and why.

Side effects of nerve blocks

There are not usually many side effects to nerve blocks. You might get low blood pressure for days or weeks afterwards. This can make you light headed if you stand up too quickly. This problem usually rights itself in time. After a coeliac nerve block, you may have diarrhoea for a few days afterwards.

How long the nerve block lasts for varies in different people. It may last between a few days to a few months. Although nerve blocks can be helpful for many people, they don’t work for everyone.

Other ways of controlling pain

There are many ways you can help to control pain. Your pain may seem worse if you are anxious or worried. It can often seem worse at night when you can’t sleep and there is nothing else to distract you. You may like to try:

  • relaxation – listen to some calming music and think of somewhere nice you would like to be
  • breathing slowly and deeply when you are tense
  • changing your position at least every two hours to prevent stiffness and sore skin
  • massage – ask your family or friends to gently massage your back, hands or feet
  • hot or cold packs (wrap them in a soft towel so you don’t damage your skin)
  • watching TV, reading or chatting to take your mind off any pain

These aren’t cures but they can help you to take some control over your pain. It can make it seem better for a while.

If you can’t sleep, learning relaxation exercises can be very helpful. Don’t get over tired as this will keep you awake.

Visitors are a good distraction but it may be better to see people more frequently for a short time if possible.

, MD, Cleveland Clinic

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac located beneath the liver. It stores bile, a fluid that is produced by the liver and aids in digestion. When bile is needed, as when people eat, the gallbladder contracts, pushing bile through the bile ducts into the small intestine. (See also Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders The liver produces bile, a greenish yellow, thick, sticky fluid. Bile aids digestion by making cholesterol, fats, and fat-soluble vitamins easier to absorb from the intestine. Bile also helps. read more How to ease gallbladder pain .)

Acalculous biliary pain is most common among young women.

This disorder may develop when bile (produced by the gallbladder) does not pass through the ducts into the small intestine as it usually does. Passage of bile may be slowed or blocked because

Gallstones Gallstones Gallstones are collections of solid material (predominantly crystals of cholesterol) in the gallbladder. The liver can secrete too much cholesterol, which is carried with bile to the gallbladder. read more How to ease gallbladder pain , which may be too small to be detected by ultrasonography, are present.

For unknown reasons, the gallbladder does not empty normally.

The biliary tract or small intestine is overly sensitive.

The ring-shaped muscle between the common bile and pancreatic ducts and small intestine (sphincter of Oddi) malfunctions.

Gallstones may have blocked the ducts, then passed through before they were detected.

Doctors suspect this disorder if people have biliary pain but ultrasonography shows no stones.

Surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is sometimes done using a flexible viewing tube called a laparoscope. After small incisions are made in the abdomen, the laparoscope and surgical instruments are inserted through the incisions. Doctors then use instruments to remove the gallbladder.

Cholecystectomy may also cause symptoms to resolve if they were caused by gallstones that are too small to be detected by ultrasonography.

Drug therapies have no proven benefit.

More Information

The following are some English-language resources that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD): A reliable resource that helps people with gastrointestinal disorders manage their health.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK): Comprehensive information on how the digestive system works and links to related topics on everything from research to treatment options.

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How to ease gallbladder pain

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Gallstones are small stones mainly made of cholesterol that form in the gallbladder. In the vast majority of individuals, gallstones do not cause any symptoms. However, sometimes gallstones can become trapped in ducts, or irritate the gallbladder, and cause symptoms, such as:

  • A sudden intense pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Jaundice

The scale of the issue

Gallstones are very common. It is estimated that 6-22% of the population in Europe have gallstones1. However, 80% of individuals with gallstones will not suffer any symptoms linked to their presence, and the outlook for patients with gallbladder disease is extremely positive as the mortality rate is very low2.

Gallbladder disease

There are three main stages of gallbladder disease:

  • Asymptomatic gallstones: gallstones are present but do not cause any symptoms.
  • Uncomplicated gallstone disease: usually caused when gallstones block the bile duct. This can lead to episodes of abdominal pain that last several hours but occur infrequently.
  • Complicated (symptomatic) gallstones, or gallbladder disease: gallstones cause serious complications, e.g. inflammation of the gallbladder. Symptoms can include a high temperature, jaundice and constant abdominal pain.

The treatment for gallbladder disease is the removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy), though not everyone will require surgery if their symptoms are not frequent or severe2.

Coffee consumption and gallstones

  • Several studies3,4,5 show that habitual coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk of developing gallbladder disease.
  • There is some evidence that coffee triggers the contraction of the gallbladder.
  • It appears likely that caffeine is largely responsible for the effect of coffee, since consumption of decaffeinated coffee is not linked to a reduced risk of developing gallbladder disease in all studies.
  • An increase in plasma cholecystokinin* levels, resulting in gallbladder contraction, has been reported after drinking both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. This would suggest coffee components other than caffeine may be responsible.
  • Coffee may have different effects depending on the stage of gallbladder disease progression. Increased gallbladder contraction may prevent small crystals becoming large gallstones in early disease, but if large gallstones are present, gallbladder contraction may cause pain.

*Cholecystokinin is a gastrointestinal hormone produced in the duodenum in response to the ingestion of fats and other food substances. It stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder and digestive enzymes from the pancreas, facilitating the digestive process.


  1. Aerts et al. (2003), The burden of gallstone disease in Europe. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 18(Suppl):349-353.
  2. Everhart et al. (2009), Burden of digestive diseases in the United States. Gastroenterol 136(2):376-386.
  3. Misciagna G. et al. (1996), Epidemiology of cholelithiasis in Southern Italy. Part II: risk factors. Eur J Gastroentero Hepatol, 8:585-593.
  4. Leitzmann al. (1999), A prospective study of coffee consumption and risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in men. JAMA, 281:2106-2112.
  5. Leitzmann M.F. et al. (2002), Coffee intake is associated with lower risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in women. Gastroenterol, 123:1823-1830.

This information is intended for Healthcare professional audiences.
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What are the symptoms of gallstones?

If gallstones block your bile ducts, bile could build up in your gallbladder, causing a gallbladder attack, sometimes called biliary colic. Gallbladder attacks usually cause pain in your upper right abdomen, sometimes lasting several hours. Gallbladder attacks often follow heavy meals and usually occur in the evening or during the night. If you’ve had one gallbladder attack, more attacks will likely follow.

Gallbladder attacks usually stop when gallstones move and no longer block the bile ducts. However, if any of your bile ducts stay blocked for more than a few hours, you may develop gallstone complications. Gallstones that do not block your bile ducts do not cause symptoms.

When you develop gallstones that block your bile ducts, bile builds up in your gallbladder, causing a gallbladder attack.

Silent gallstones

Most people with gallstones do not have symptoms. Gallstones that do not cause symptoms are called silent gallstones. Silent gallstones don’t stop your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas from working, so they do not need treatment.

Seek care right away for a gallbladder attack

See a doctor right away if you are having these symptoms during or after a gallbladder attack:

  • pain in your abdomen lasting several hours
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever—even a low-grade fever—or chills
  • yellowish color of your skin or whites of your eyes, called jaundice
  • tea-colored urine and light-colored stools

These symptoms may be signs of a serious infection or inflammation of the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas. Gallstone symptoms may be similar to symptoms of other conditions, such as appendicitis, ulcers, pancreatitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, all of which should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.

Gallstone complications can occur if your bile ducts stay blocked. Left untreated, blockages of the bile ducts or pancreatic duct can be fatal.

What causes gallstones?

Gallstones may form if bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin, or not enough bile salts. Researchers do not fully understand why these changes in bile occur. Gallstones also may form if the gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough. Certain people are more likely to have gallstones than others because of their risk factors for gallstones, including obesity and certain kinds of dieting.

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

How to ease gallbladder pain

If you’re like most people, your gallbladder is unlikely to cross your mind until it begins causing problems. Gallbladder issues can cause pain and other prominent symptoms as well as vague symptoms that you’re less likely to realize are caused by gallbladder disease. Learn how gallbladder issues affect your body, when to seek professional help, and how treatment can provide relief.

What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ about 3-4 inches in length. Its job is to store bile, a digestive fluid that aids your body in absorbing fat and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

When you eat fat-containing foods, your gallbladder contracts and releases bile into the small intestine, where it breaks the fat down. A healthy gallbladder does this without pain or problems. People with gallbladder problems tend to experience pain and discomfort after eating fatty meals because their gallbladder is either blocked or has stopped functioning properly.

Common gallbladder disease symptoms

In many cases, gallbladder disease can cause significant pain, typically following meals that contain fat. Sticking to a low-fat diet is one approach to easing gallbladder pain. However, doing so doesn’t address the root of the problem; you may need to have your gallbladder removed. Some of the most prominent symptoms of gallbladder disease include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Acid reflux
  • Abdominal pain

Gallbladder pain usually occurs in the middle to upper-right part of your abdomen. In some people, the pain is severe and frequent, while others may experience mild pain that comes and goes.

Complications of gallbladder disease

Without treatment, gallbladder problems can become life-threatening. Gallbladder disease can cause infection that may spread to other parts of the body. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience an unexplained fever. This may be a sign of infection.

A bile duct blockage can cause jaundice. Yellow-tinted skin is a warning sign that you may have a blockage in your bile duct. Chronic diarrhea is also a complication of gallbladder disease.

Lesser-known gallbladder disease symptoms

While pain is certainly one of the most common symptoms of gallbladder disease, you may have other symptoms that you might not realize are related to a gallbladder problem. Some examples:

Lack of appetite

People with gallbladder disease may experience a lack of appetite without recognizing the true cause. If you have other symptoms of gallbladder problems and notice that your appetite isn’t as robust as you’re used to, it may be a signal of gallbladder disease.

Fat-soluble vitamin deficiency

Because bile is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, you may experience a deficiency in crucial nutrients like vitamin D. Indications that you have low levels of fat-soluble vitamins — such as experiencing fatigue (low vitamin D) or bruising easily (low vitamin K) — serve as a warning sign that something may be amiss with your gallbladder.

Dark urine

If you suspect that you have gallbladder problems, your urine may provide a clue. A blockage of the bile duct can cause urine to appear darker than normal. Report any changes in your urine color to your doctor, along with any other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Change in bowel habits

If you find yourself making more trips to the bathroom or if the consistency of your stool has changed, this may be a signal that your gallbladder isn’t working properly. A change in bowel habits is a commonly overlooked symptom of gallbladder disease.

When you need your gallbladder removed, the team at Rockwall Surgical Specialists offers the latest advancements in gallbladder surgery, including laparoscopic and robotic surgery. To learn more, call one of our convenient locations to schedule an appointment or request a booking online.

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Gallstone pain is one of the absolutely worst pains I have ever experienced. I’m not one to tempt fate, but I definitely think it rivals child-birth, if not surpasses it. So if you’re currently looking for ways to ease gallstone pain, you have my complete sympathy.

I want to begin this post by outlining the fact that it’s not glamorous or pleasant, but if it even helps one person feel some relief from gallstone pain, then it was worth writing.

*NOTE: I am not a doctor. These are my experiences and the things that helped me, but I would recommend speaking to a docor before following any of them.

1. Go to a Doctor

I get it, the pain is awful and all you want to do is curl up and cry, but the quickest route to resolving your pain long term, is to get an appointment booked and start the process of identifying your problem. If you can’t go when you’re in the midst of an attack, go as soon as it subsides. Don’t assume is it over and forget about it, trust me, it will come back! Once diagnosed, gallstones are very manageable and very treatable, so don’t suffer. It’s also worth noting that the symptoms of gallstones are similar to many other problems, such as coeliac disease and IBS. Make sure the tests you have are thorough, don’t accept an off the cuff diagnosis. I learnt the hard way!

2. Take Strong Painkillers

Regular paracetemol didn’t touch the pain for me. The only thing that had any impact was taking both Tramadol and paracetemol together, which made my head rather spinny, but was the first true pain relief I had. Be careful to only take this concoction when the pain is especially severe. I was always very aware that in bad attacks I would take a lot more medication that I was comfortable with, but sometimes you just need to survive, you know?

3. Apply Heat

This is standard for all tummy pain, but apply heat as soon as you feel the pain beginning. While it doesn’t get rid of the pain, it definitely helps to ease it slightly.

4. Stay Hydrated

This one is really important because the water helps the gallbladder to empty, which prevents a build up of bile, both decreasing the pain and helping you to recover quicker. When you find a comfortable position, it’s difficult to make yourself move out of it to drink water, so make sure you have a bottle handy that you can keep right beside you. Drinking warm water can also ease the pain a little.

5. Lie on Your Side

My pain was on my left side, but placing a hot water bottle under my left side and lying on it would help to ease the pain a lot. I would usually try to nap in that position, and when I woke up the pain had reduced for a short while. When the pain is so intense, that little relief is amazing. Sometimes lying on my stomach would help too. It would be incredibly painful to get into the position, but once in it, I found the position helped.

6. Sleep

Following on from the last tip to ease gallstone pain, sleep as much as you can. When you’re in this kind of pain, there is no way you are going to have a productive day, so don’t even try to. Scrap your schedule for the day and sleep as much as you can. Sleeping gives the body time to rest and rejuvenate, but even if it doesn’t help you to heal, you’re oblivious to the pain when you’re asleep. Taking painkillers, then napping while they kicked in helped me a lot, and it was such a nice feeling to wake up in less pain.

7. Get on the Floor

One of the absolute best ways to relieve gallstone pain for me was to get on all fours on the floor. Not the most ladylike position, but it worked every time! Sit on your knees then lean forward, using your arms to steady yourself, and stick your bum our behind you. This would release a gurgle that came from deep inside, which I guess is the bile caused by the gallstones. When that happened, I would get a lot of pain relief.

8. Sickness

Many people are sick with gallstones, but I wasn’t naturally sick. instead suffering with awful nausea. The one time I was sick, I received instant paint relief, which led me to make myself be sick during times the pain was incredibly severe in order to relieve it. I don’t advocate this, but when absolutely desperate, this helped me.

9. Antacids

Heartburn and reflux is a very unattractive symptom of gallstones that most people suffer with. Taking antacids can help to relieve the heartburn. Make sure you check whether they can be taken alongside your medication. Extra minty mints may also be helpful, but watch the fat content.

10. Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea is a big painrelief for gallstones too. It relieves pain and nausea, but I also found that the mint also helped with heartburn too.

11. Diet

Once your gallbladder attack has subsided, you’ll probably find yourself a few pound lighter and very hungry. Don’t go wild! One of the biggest causes of a gallbladder flare up is eating fatty foods, although this can vary for different people. Eat a very low fat diet, with small but regular meals to aid your digestion and prevent another attack.

12. Eat Pineapple

I have no idea why or how, but eating pineapple was a huge help to me when suffering. I don’t know if the acidity neutralised the bile, but I found I would have a huge amount of relief after eating it. I would eat small amounts throughout the day (usually in place or meals when suffering an attack becaue I couldn’t face food) and it helped. We now always have a supply of pineapple in the house for moments when my gallstones decide to attack.

Trigger Foods

Trigger foods are different for everybody, and there were some things that affected me, that shouldn’t have based on all of the infomration that I read. I 100% recommend keeping a food diary so that you can identify the foods that to trigger a gallstone attack.

For me the triggers included:

  • Many flour-based foods like bread, cake, etc
  • Dairy; even the fat-free products like fat free cottage cheese caused me problems
  • Citrus flavours, including sugar-free diluted juice, and especially lemon
  • Large and normal sized meals – I had to eat VERY small meals
  • I also avoided anything above 3% fat per 100g, although tried to keep it way below that even

The biggest advice I can give you though is to see your doctor! The pain is just not worth suffering, and leaving them can cause complications, such as pancreatitis and jaundice through infection, and trust me, you don’t want that to happen.

If you’re suffering, I am sending all of the hugs and peppermint tea your way, because I know how you feel and it is awful! I hope some of these tips that I learnt the hard way, help to ease your gallstone pain.

Read more on how I managed gallstones

  • Read about my gallstone diagnosis.
  • My low fat gallstone diet

You can find more information on the NHS website. I also found this website useful if you need an ERCP.

Are there any other tips that helped you to ease gallstone pain?

How to ease gallbladder pain

Gallstones are more common during pregnancy and after, often due to hormonal changes. Gallstones often don’t cause symptoms and can go away on their own, but they can lead to severe pain and infection if they obstruct the flow of bile from the gallbladder. If you have gallbladder problems during pregnancy, changing your diet and getting regular exercise may help, or you may need medication or gallbladder surgery.

How to ease gallbladder pain

  • Gallstones in pregnancy
  • Symptoms of gallbladder problems in pregnancy
  • Risk factors for gallbladder disease in pregnancy
  • Will gallbladder disease affect my baby?
  • How is gallbladder disease treated during pregnancy?
  • Gallbladder disease after pregnancy

The gallbladder is a small, sac-shaped organ that sits just beneath the liver. Its purpose is to store bile, a substance that helps digest fats. As food enters the small intestine from the stomach, the gallbladder receives a signal to start contracting and release bile into the intestine.

Bile is composed of water, bile salts, and cholesterol, among other things. If the bile contains too much cholesterol and not enough bile salts, or the gallbladder doesn’t empty properly, the gallbladder can form gallstones.

Gallstones in pregnancy

Gallstones are more common in pregnancy because of hormonal changes. Estrogen, a pregnancy hormone, increases cholesterol secretion. At the same time, another pregnancy hormone, progesterone, causes muscular tissue throughout the body to relax and the release of bile to slow. This can lead to gallstones, hard deposits of bile that form in your gallbladder.

Most of the time, gallstones that form in pregnancy don’t cause symptoms and go away on their own. But they can cause problems if they obstruct ducts in the gallbladder and prevent bile from exiting. This can lead to gallbladder pain, inflammation, and infection. The gallbladder becomes distended because it can’t release the bile, and this distention causes upper abdominal or back pain, nausea, and vomiting.

Symptoms of gallbladder problems in pregnancy

Symptoms of gallbladder problems include:

  • sharp pain in the upper part of the abdomen that appears one to two hours after a meal that’s high in fat. (Because dinner is usually the heaviest meal, the pain is more likely to occur at night.) The pain can be severe and last from a few minutes to several hours.
  • pain between the shoulder blades or underneath the right shoulder
  • gas
  • abdominal bloating
  • sweating
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Symptoms are more common in the third trimester or after delivery, but those at higher risk can develop them earlier in pregnancy.

One problem in detecting the beginning of gallbladder disease during pregnancy is that the symptoms may be confused with morning sickness. However, if symptoms persist beyond the first trimester, or if you or your provider suspects gallbladder-related problems, you may have an ultrasound. Ultrasound is the most effective way to diagnose a gallbladder condition.

If you’ve had gallbladder problems before, let your doctor know so they can monitor you during pregnancy and prevent the disease from getting worse.

Risk factors for gallbladder disease in pregnancy

Women are far more likely to develop gallbladder disease than men are. You’re also more likely to develop gallbladder disease if you:

  • Have a family history of the disease
  • Are overweight (even if only moderately)
  • Have a high-fat or high-cholesterol diet
  • Have diabetes
  • Are of Mexican or Native American origin
  • Are pregnant or postpartum

Will gallbladder disease affect my baby?

Deposits or stones have no direct effect on your baby. And the vast majority of people with gallstones have no symptoms. However, if you have symptoms that hinder your ability to nourish yourself and pass along adequate nutrition to your developing baby, or if a severe obstruction leads to inflammation or infection, your baby could be affected.

Gallbladder disease during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, readmission of the mother to the hospital, and even mother and/or infant fatality in the newborn period.

How is gallbladder disease treated during pregnancy?

Your doctor may prescribe medication and suggest that you make lifestyle changes like eating fewer fatty foods and getting regular exercise.

If the inflammation is severe, or if there’s an infection, an operation may be necessary to remove your gallbladder and prevent more serious complications.

If you need your gallbladder removed (a surgery called cholecystectomy) it will probably be done laparoscopically. The surgeon makes two small abdominal incisions, inserting surgical instruments and a laparoscope. The laparoscope has a tiny camera that transmits a picture of the organs to a video monitor.

The gallbladder can then be removed without having to create a large incision. This means less pain and an easier recovery.

Gallbladder disease after pregnancy

It’s not uncommon for gallbladder disease symptoms to appear two to four months after delivery. This may be because pregnancy hormones aggravated the problem during the preceding nine months, and it takes a while for things to go back to normal. Changes in your hormone levels after delivery may also be the culprit.

Gallbladder problems may also result from rapid weight loss after delivery. When you burn fat quickly, extra cholesterol accumulates in the bile, which can lead to gallstones.

To reduce your risk of developing gallstones after pregnancy:

  • Eat a high-fiber diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Keep weight gain during pregnancy to recommended amounts.
  • Keep your postpartum weight loss to no more than a pound and a half a week if you’re breastfeeding.
  • Get a healthy amount of exercise.

If you had gallbladder disease that was controlled during pregnancy and no surgery was required, it’s important to have a follow-up evaluation. Symptoms can occur in the postpartum period or later in life, so have an evaluation when you’re not in pain. Your doctor may recommend that you have your gallbladder removed to avoid an emergency situation later.

Learn more:


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Most people don’t worry about their gallbladder unless they start to experience pain or discomfort in some way which might need gallbladder treatment. Your diet will play a big role in how your digestive system works. Eating the right foods is essential if you want your digestive tract to function effectively.

To prevent gallbladder issues, the following diet tips will help:

1. Don’t Crash Diet to Reduce Gallbladder Risk

Don’t crash diet. If you want to lose weight, use a solid diet plan with fewer calories and increase your level of activity. Crash diets may help you lose a few pounds fast, but they can disrupt the sensitive balance in your digestive tract causing your liver to release excessive amounts of cholesterol. This means your gallbladder has to work overtime.

2. Include Healthy Foods in Your Gallbladder Diet

Eat healthy foods. Avoid processed foods that come out of a box. They are made with an abundance of additives and preservatives that stress the digestive system. Eat fresh, whole foods as much as possible. It’s important to include:

  • Low-fat dairy foods
  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, bran cereal, oats, whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta
  • Lean meats and poultry
  • Fish
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients and fiber and will keep your digestive tract running smoothly. These foods are also easier for your body to break down more efficiently, which means more nutrients and an abundance of usable energy. If you want to create a gallbladder-friendly diet, try eating smaller meals more often. This puts less stress on the stomach and gallbladder, so they don’t have to digest large amounts of food at one time.

Avoid Sugary Foods in Your Gallbladder Diet

Avoid sugary foods that can cause inflammation in the gut. Once inflammation has become a problem, it can make every part of your digestive tract work harder, including your gallbladder and pancreas. Replace sugary foods with healthy snacks like crackers and cheese or fresh fruits and vegetables. If you want to prevent gallbladder issues, take the time to re-evaluate your diet and include foods that will put less stress on your gallbladder and the rest of your digestive system. You will start to feel better, and the weight you want to lose will start to drop gradually. If you continue to experience gallbladder problems, visit your nearest general surgeon in Anchorage for the best treatment.

Dr. Madhu Prasad, M.D., FACS

Dr. Madhu Prasad has over 30+ years of experience working as a general surgeon and surgical oncologist and providing the highest level of care in Anchorage, Alaska. He believes in providing quality care to patients and their families. Inspired by compassion and humanism, Dr. Prasad and his team work for the well-being of their patients.

Returning to Normal

Returning to normal may take a few days or weeks, depending on your body’s healing power. People can lead a normal, healthy life without the gallbladder.

There is usually minimal pain associated with this operation. The abdomen will be sore as well as the small incision sites, and some patients have shoulder pain for the first day or two. The shoulder pain is caused by gas left in your abdomen during the operation. It will disappear on its own. When you are discharged home you will be given a pain medication to take if necessary. The first few days you may want to take the pain medication so that you will be more comfortable. As you become more active the amount of pain medication needed should decrease quickly. Some patients find that after the initial recovery period is over that medications such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen work well. As with any type of surgery, it is reasonable to expect some amount of pain. This varies with individual patients and depends on your body’s response to pain medication.

Most patients are concerned about what they can eat after the cholecystectomy. You are permitted to eat what you would like. Most patients find that a bland diet of such foods as: toast, rice, bananas, soups, pasta etc. are the easiest to digest initially. After the initial recovery period most patients can tolerate a variety of foods without difficulty. It is not uncommon for it to take a few days for your normal appetite to return following surgery.

Wound Care

There will be four small wounds on your abdomen after the operation, three under your right ribs and one at the belly button. These wounds are usually closed with dissolvable stitches. These areas need to be kept clean. You may shower and bathe when the bandages are removed. You should look at the wounds every day and call the GI Surgery Nurse at (919) 966-8436 if there is redness or any bleeding from these areas. Sometimes you will notice bruising around the wounds, this is normal.

Driving a Car

As long as you are not taking pain medicine stronger than Tylenol or Ibuprofen and when you feel as though your reaction time is normal, you may begin driving. Do not drive if you are taking any kind of pain medicine or medicine that impairs your judgment. Most patients wait until they no longer feel their abdomen is sore.

Most patients feel strong enough to return to work in a 1 to 2 weeks following the operation. Some patients may return sooner if they do desk work. If you do work that requires you to lift or bend then you may need to be placed on restricted work duty until you have your post-operative appointment. If you need a letter or work excuse to be sent to your employer, please let your surgeon or the GI Surgery nurse know.

Bowel Habits

Normal bowel habits may be altered by several factors regarding surgery. Constipation is common. Anesthesia, decreased activity, and narcotic pain medications are factors that may cause constipation. You should be aware to increase fiber in your diet as soon as possible and to increases your fluid intake. If necessary you may take a mild laxative. Infrequently patients develop loose stools or diarrhea after a cholecystectomy. This may go away within days or may last for several weeks. This is easily treated with medication.

Activity and Exercise

Patients feel like doing activities within a few days of having their operation. You should not lift anything heavier than 8 to 10 pounds (a gallon of milk) for 2 weeks. After this period of time you can begin lifting heavier objects being aware that if your abdomen hurts you should not be lifting. Walk as much as is comfortable for you, moderate exercise helps improve circulation. You may shower the day after the operation. You may resume sexual relations when it feels comfortable for you.

Potential Problems

As with any operation there is a possibility of complications. Included in these complications are bile leaks and/or bile duct injuries. Although these can be serious complications, they occur very rarely. Your surgeon will discuss these with you.

Some potential short-term complications that may arise shortly after the operation are:

Loose bowel movements – may occur because bile is not being concentrated in the gallbladder, it is spilled directly into the small intestine from the liver. It often takes a few days to a few weeks for your body to adjust. If the symptoms become severe, you should notify the surgeon or the GI Surgery nurse.

  • Infection – infection can occur with any operation. Every step is taken to ensure that this does not take place.
  • Wound infection – these infections are usually superficial or on the surface, and can be treated by draining the infected site.
  • A long term complication that may arise months or years after your operation is a: Hernia – A hernia is a protrusion of tissue through a weak spot in your incision. Hernias are not common after laparoscopic surgery, but do occur. An operation is necessary to repair the hernia.


Most patients feel much better following this operation. The gallbladder is an important organ, but not essential for life. The surgeons here at UNC Hospitals have been performing this procedure since its inception. They have experience in all aspects of care regarding patients with gallstones. We encourage you to speak to patients who have had this operation. We are glad to give you the names of previous patients who are willing to talk to potential patients.

This information is being provided to help patients understand laparoscopic cholecystectomy. You should talk with your physician about any medical advice dealing with your medical diagnosis.

If you’re experiencing pain in your upper-right abdomen, it’s important to remain calm and consult a medical professional. This pain could be caused by any number of factors, but there’s a chance it’s being caused by gallbladder inflammation. If left untreated, gallbladder inflammation can lead to a gallbladder rupture, a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition.

Below, we discuss the signs of an impending gallbladder rupture. If you’re experiencing the symptoms described throughout this article, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention. A gallbladder rupture can be effectively treated with surgery, but it’s best to consult one of the top gallbladder surgeons in Tampa before emergency surgery is needed.

The Signs to Watch Out For

Gallbladder ruptures are rarely caused by a traumatic abdominal injury. More often, they are caused by gallstones , bacterial infections, ascariasis, or biliary sludge. Because gallbladder ruptures are caused by gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis), you should be watching for the following symptoms:

  • Upper right abdominal pain
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and possible chills
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)

If you’re experiencing the above symptoms, you may be suffering from acute or chronic cholecystitis. Acute cholecystitis is sudden inflammation and, if left untreated, can lead to chronic cholecystitis and an increased risk of a gallbladder rupture.

If your gallbladder has ruptured, you’re likely experiencing sudden excruciating pain. If you believe your gallbladder has ruptured, seek immediate medical attention for gallbladder surgery in Tampa .

The Dangers of A Ruptured Gallbladder

The chief danger of a gallbladder rupture is an infection, which can lead to sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition where your body creates a dysregulated response to infection. Essentially, your body is hurting itself while trying to attack the infection. Sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death, which is why it’s so important to seek medical treatment if you are experiencing the signs of cholecystitis.

Consult a Medical Professional for Diagnosis and Treatment

If you are experiencing the signs of an impending gallbladder rupture, your best course of action is to consult a medical professional. The outlook for your condition will be far more promising if your gallbladder can be removed before it ruptures. As one of the top gallbladder surgeons in Tampa , Dr. Clark can diagnose your condition and determine if surgery is right for you.

Although your abdominal pain may be the result of something benign, it’s important to consult a medical professional in order to avoid the above complications. Until you consult a surgeon like Dr. Clark, you’ll have no way of knowing if you need gallbladder surgery in Tampa .

How to ease gallbladder pain

Your gallbladder is an important part of your digestive system. Gallbladder disease can result in your suffering from chronic gallstones. These small, hardened deposits of digestive bile can vary in size, and can become painful or uncomfortable.

Vascular surgeon David W. Ranson, MD, FACS provides care for patients with gallbladder concerns from South Charleston, West Virginia offices. If you’re at risk of gallstones, take steps to protect your health and wellness.

What you eat can make a big difference in your likelihood of developing gallstones . Here are some of the helpful dietary tips and tricks that Dr. Ranson wants his patients with gallbladder issues to know about.

1. Watch out for fatty meats and fish

Fatty meats, in particular, can increase your risk of gallstones. Choose leaner cuts of meat, and remove skin and additional fat before eating. Opt for fresh fish over canned, and avoid fish products that are canned in oil. Fried meats are also a bad idea if you want to avoid stressing your gallbladder.

2. Steer away from processed meats

Processed meats, including hot dogs, sausages, canned meats, and cold cuts, can all become a problem for your gallbladder. Preservative agents and high fat content make these a good type of food to skip if you’re trying to support your gallbladder and prevent the formation of gallstones.

3. Keep an eye on dairy products

Low-fat dairy selections won’t put undue stress on your gallbladder, but rich cheeses and butter can increase your risk of developing gallstones. Look for cheeses that have less than 5 grams of fat per ounce when you’re picking food options. Other good dairy choices for people with gallbladder issues are low-fat milk and yoghurt and sour cream.

4. Avoid avocado

While the high levels of fat in avocados is often described as a healthy fat, it can still cause problems if you have gallbladder issues. Skip avocados and guacamole, and opt for snacking on fruits that are high in fiber instead.

5. Skip out on white flour

Foods made with refined white flour, like white bread and pasta, are lacking in fiber, and won’t do much to support your gallbladder. However, whole-grain breads and pastas are fine for patients with gallbladder issues. Rice, oats, and other whole grains can also help your gallbladder to keep functioning smoothly, so that you won’t be troubled by gallstones.

If you’re concerned about potential gallbladder issues, including your risk for developing gallstones this spring, get in touch with Dr. Ranson today. You can book your initial consultation appointment with Dr. Ranson by giving our office a call now, or use the online tool to schedule.

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Gallstones are extremely common, affecting up to 15% of adults in the United States — or nearly 25 million men and women — at any given time. In many cases, these hardened deposits of cholesterol and bile are small enough to remain asymptomatic and unproblematic.

But for the hundreds of thousands of people who have their gallbladder surgically removed every year, gallstones are often numerous enough or big enough to cause pain, inflammation, infection, or all the above.

As a board-certified general surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive gallbladder surgery , Johnny L. Serrano, DO, FACOS , provides long-term relief for people who’ve been diagnosed with acute or chronic gallbladder problems.

Let’s explore five signs and symptoms that can indicate you may need gallbladder surgery.

1. You’re having epigastric pain

The primary symptom of gallbladder disease or gallstones is epigastric pain, or pain that occurs in the upper right side of your abdomen between the top of your stomach and the bottom of your ribcage. The nature of epigastric pain depends on the underlying problem:

Biliary colic

Gripping, intermittent pain in the upper right abdomen is the main symptom of biliary colic , the mildest and most common early symptom of gallbladder disease. This pain, which typically comes and goes, may radiate into your upper back or toward your right shoulder blade. It can last for a few minutes or a few hours, and often occurs following mealtime.

Acute cholecystitis

Acute cholecystitis — also known as a gallbladder attack — is the sudden inflammation of your gallbladder. It’s typically caused by a blockage of gallstones or bile sludge in any of the gallbladder ducts. The pain associated with this condition is like the pain caused by biliary colic, but it’s far more severe and persistent, lasting several hours or even several days.

The sharp, unrelenting pain brought on by a gallbladder attack may radiate into your back and get more intense every time you take a deep breath. It may also cause your upper abdomen to feel tender to the touch.

2. You’ve got chronic indigestion

Gallbladder disease and the presence of bothersome gallstones can have a pronounced effect on your digestion each time you eat; in fact, many people with gallbladder problems experience chronic indigestion.

Although post-meal belching, bloating, heartburn, and abdominal discomfort can be a product of stress, overeating, eating too quickly, fatty foods, and food intolerances, they’re also common indicators of gallbladder problems, including gallstones.

3. Your pain comes with nausea

All types of gallbladder problems, from chronic gallbladder disease and biliary colic to acute cholecystitis and gallstone pancreatitis , can leave you feeling nauseated or make you vomit.

With an acute gallbladder attack or gallstone pancreatitis, nausea and/or vomiting are typically accompanied by intense upper abdominal pain, bloating, a low-grade fever, and chills.

With biliary colic or chronic gallbladder disease, nausea and vomiting are more likely to occur after mealtime, along with excess gas, indigestion, and heartburn.

4. You have a fever and the chills

A fever is your immune system’s way of raising your core body temperature to fight an infection. It’s perfectly normal to develop a fever and the chills when you’re fighting off a viral illness such as the flu or a bacterial ailment like a urinary tract infection (UTI).

But when a fever and the chills are accompanied by severe, persistent upper abdominal pain, it could be a sign of a gallbladder attack or other serious gallstone complications — the kind that should be diagnosed and treated immediately.

When a fever and the chills are caused by a blocked bile duct or a gallbladder infection, prompt care — which often means gallbladder surgery — is the only way to relieve symptoms and keep the infection from spreading to other parts of your body.

5. You’re showing signs of jaundice

If gallstones become lodged in the common bile duct, or the duct that’s shared by your liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, you may become jaundiced. Jaundice is a condition that causes your skin, the whites of your eyes, and your mucus membranes to turn yellow because of high levels of a yellow-orange bile pigment called bilirubin.

While adult jaundice can be a symptom of hepatitis, an autoimmune disorder, or a variety of other conditions, it’s also a common sign of gallstone blockages and gallbladder inflammation (acute or chronic).

If you suspect you might need gallbladder surgery, the team at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy can help. Call 602-393-1304 to reach our office in Glendale, Arizona, today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Serrano any time.

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We’ve all experienced stomach pain and heartburn after over-indulging in unhealthy, greasy foods.

Most of the time, this pain passes once the food has time to settle. But some people become so concerned about their symptoms that they end up going to the ER. More often than not, the diagnosis is a gallbladder attack.

What causes a gallbladder attack?

Having an unhealthy gallbladder from poor food choices can restrict the organ’s ability to aid in the digestive process. This can cause gallstones to form and block the bile duct, which leads to a painful inflammation from bile buildup. Because the symptoms can be mistaken for other medical conditions, such as a heart attack, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of a gallbladder attack so you know the proper measures to take.

Recognizing the symptoms of a gallbladder attack

The symptoms of a gallbladder attack are similar to other digestive conditions, but the location and severity of the symptoms are what signal a gallbladder attack:

1. Belly Pain. Belly pain that begins in the upper right portion of the stomach under the ribs is one of the most common symptoms of a gallbladder attack. The pain can be dull, sharp, or cause cramping.
2. Indigestion. Most people suffering from a gallbladder attack often complain about nausea, gas, belching, and bloating, but it might be difficult to distinguish those symptoms. Gallbladder attacks can also cause a pain that radiates to the upper back and behind the breastbone, similar to a heart attack.
3. Loss of appetite. As gallstone pain worsens, most people lose their appetite. Nausea and heartburn following meals might also cause a person to avoid eating altogether.
4. Jaundice. The bile duct being blocked will cause bile to get trapped in your bloodstream, which can lead to your skin turning a yellowish hue.
5. Changes in urine color. If bile pigment forms in the gallbladder, it can cause urine to turn a dark brown or bright yellow color.
What happens if I have gallbladder disease?

Gallbladder disease is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s important to consult a physician. They might suggest gallbladder removal if your condition is serious enough. Click here to learn more about Gallbladder Disease from Surgical Consultants of Northern Virginia.

Dr. Brett Sachse at Surgical Consultants of Northern Virginia will provide you with the proper treatment if you believe you’re suffering from gallbladder disease.

Call (571) 512-5300 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Sachse today!

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  • Overview
  • Gallbladder Cancer Surgery
  • Symptom Relief for Gallbladder Cancer
  • Chemotherapy for Gallbladder Cancer
  • Radiation Therapy for Gallbladder Cancer

Many people are not candidates for surgery by the time gallbladder cancer is diagnosed. However, minimally invasive, image-guided procedures can help improve quality of life by allowing bile to drain out of the gallbladder or a bile duct that is blocked by a tumor. Our surgeons, gastroenterologists, and experts in interventional radiology use tools such as catheters and needles, to relieve such symptoms as jaundice, itching, nausea, vomiting, and infection.

Stent Placement

A stent is a small drainage tube. It can relieve a blocked bile duct so bile can flow across a blockage to the small intestine. Usually, a stent is placed using an endoscope (a small tubelike instrument) inserted through the mouth. When that method is not possible, a stent can be placed with a needle inserted through the liver. Imaging is used to identify the blockage and place a stent or a drainage catheter (a thin, flexible tube) through the blockage. Some people may need to have a catheter for a while after getting a stent.

Biliary Bypass

A biliary bypass connects the gallbladder or bile duct directly to the small intestine. This creates a new way for bile to get around a tumor that is blocking the flow from the gallbladder.

Neurolytic Celiac Plexus Block

People with advanced gallbladder cancer often have pain. The pain may be caused by cancer cells that have invaded a cluster of nerves near the liver known as the celiac plexus. People who don’t get enough pain relief with conventional pain-relieving drugs may benefit from a procedure called neurolytic celiac plexus block (NCPB). This involves injecting a local anesthetic into the celiac plexus to disrupt the body’s pain signals. MSK doctors were among the first to use this technique. NCPB has been shown to reduce pain significantly and improve mood and life expectancy for people with advanced gallbladder cancer.

Doctors at MSK have shown that NCPB can be performed with a laparoscope while examining the gallbladder to diagnose and stage the cancer. Many other cancer centers perform percutaneous (through the skin) NCPB with a needle. This method is associated with side effects, such as muscle and limb weakness. Laparoscopic NCPB may provide similar or better pain relief than percutaneous NCPB with fewer potential side effects.

NCPB also can be performed using an endoscopic ultrasound. This involves inserting a small probe through the mouth and into the stomach to get a detailed view of the celiac plexus. As with laparoscopic NCPB, endoscopic NCPB may be at least as effective as the percutaneous approach, with fewer potential side effects.


Ablation destroys cancer cells by delivering heat or cold through a needle placed into a gallbladder tumor. It requires no incisions (cuts) and is effective for some people with isolated tumors who are not candidates for surgery.

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped sac found just below the liver that is the “holding area” for bile. Bile is produced by the liver to help digest foods. The gallbladder releases the bile into the small intestine to help break down food, particularly fatty foods.

Usually, the gallbladder is not the subject of a health concern. However, if something slows the flow of bile or blocks it completely, then problems can occur.

The presence of other (co-morbid) conditions may also cause gallbladder concerns, including:

  • Obesity
  • Childbirth
  • Gender-related (female) conditions
  • Consumption of fatty foods

Common gallbladder disorders include:

  • Biliary colic. A term for severe episodes of pain caused by gallstone blockage of the cystic duct. The blockage causes the gallbladder to contract vigorously, causing spasmodic (or sometimes constant) severe pain. Episodes usually last only an hour or two, and may recur infrequently, often years apart.
  • Dysfunctional gallbladder or chronic gallbladder disease. The gallbladder becomes scarred from the gallstones and the repeated episodes of inflammation.
  • Gallstones (cholelithiasis). Stones develop inside the gallbladder and can cause pain. However, about 90% of patients suffering with gallstones may have no symptoms, and may have had the stones present for a number of years. Studies indicate that if a patient has gallstones present for 10 or more years, they are less likely to cause symptoms.
  • Inflamed gallbladder (cholecystitis). Inflammation of the gallbladder can be caused by gallstones – the most common cause – excessive alcohol use, infections, or even tumors that cause bile buildup. The gallbladder may rupture, which is cause for a surgical emergency.
  • Sclerosing cholangitis. A disease of the bile ducts that causes inflammation of the liver, slowing the flow of bile to the gut. This can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure or even liver cancer.

Signs and symptoms of gallbladder disorders

The symptoms of a gallbladder disorder can vary depending on the type of condition. However, most symptoms start with pain in the upper abdominal area, either in the upper right or middle. Other common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Heartburn, indigestion, and excessive gas
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Pain that extends below the right shoulder blade or to the back; that worsens after eating a meal, particularly fatty or greasy foods; or a pain that increases when you breathe in deeply
  • Tenderness in the abdomen, particularly the right upper quadrant
  • Vomiting, nausea, fever

Diagnosis of gallbladder disorders

The first step in the diagnosis of a gallbladder disorder is to pinpoint the actual cause of the patient’s discomfort. Typically, a process of elimination is used to rule out any other disorders which might be mimicking a gallbladder attack, such as:

  • Acute appendicitis
  • Diverticulosis/Diverticulitis
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Heart attack. Often mistaken as a gallbladder attack.
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Kidney stones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Viral hepatitis

Your doctor will first conduct a complete medical history and physical examination. Diagnostic tests will be then be used to determine if the abdominal pain is caused solely by gallstones or another condition – one or more of the following techniques may be used:

  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Blood tests
  • A computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdominal organs
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). A tube is placed down the throat, into the stomach, then into the small intestine. Dye is injected and the ducts of the gallbladder can be seen on X-ray.
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) – a specialized ultrasound probe placed on an endoscope which is used to image the gallbladder and biliary duct.
  • HIDA scan. A radioactive material called hydroxy iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) is injected and is taken up by the gallbladder to measure gallbladder emptying function. This test also is referred to as cholescintigraphy.

Treatment of gallbladder disorders

Gallstones are typically managed through medical observation or removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). Less commonly used treatments include sphincterotomy and extraction of gallstones or dissolving gallstones with oral medications.

Your gastroenterologist may also recommend a change in diet for the management of gallstones:

  • Coffee. Drinking coffee every day can lower the risk of gallstones; the caffeine is thought to stimulate gallbladder contractions and lower the cholesterol concentrations in bile.
  • Fats. Although fats (particularly saturated fats found in meats, butter, and other animal products) have been associated with gallstone attacks, some studies have found a lower risk for gallstones in people who consume foods containing monounsaturated fats (found in olive and canola oils) or omega-3 fatty acids (found in canola, flaxseed, and fish oil). Fish oil may be particularly beneficial in patients with high triglyceride levels, because it improves the emptying actions of the gallbladder.
  • Fiber. High intake of fiber has been associated with a lower risk for gallstones.
  • Fruits and Vegetables. Studies have indicated that patients who consume a lot of fruits and vegetables may have a lower risk of developing gallstones that require gallbladder removal.
  • High carbohydrates. Diets that are high in carbohydrates (such as pasta and bread) can also increase risk; carbohydrates are converted to sugar in the body.
  • Nuts. Studies suggest that people may be able to reduce their risk of gallstones by eating more nuts (peanuts and tree nuts, such as walnuts and almonds).
  • Sugar. High intake of sugar can increase the risk for gallstones.

As a comprehensive treatment measure for emergency cases or more serious gallbladder disorders, surgery may be required. Summa surgeons perform many gallbladder procedures including a Cholecystectomy, which is removal of the gallbladder using a minimally invasive approach, an open surgical approach or minimally-invasive, robotic-assisted surgery instead of a scope.

To schedule an appointment with a Summa physician to discuss treatment for your gastrointestinal condition, click or call 330.761.1111.