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The Most Common Gallbladder Conditions and Their Symptoms

The gallbladder is a critical organ in the human body that aids in digestion. Gallbladder issues and subsequent complications range from mild to severe. Here’s a complete rundown of the most frequently occurring gallbladder diseases and associated symptoms. 

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, nestled beneath your liver. 

Like many people, you might be clueless as to what your gallbladder does or even where the gallbladder location is. While your liver’s job is to produce bile, the gallbladder’s primary purpose is to store and release it whenever necessary. Bile is essential for breaking down and digesting the fats that you consume.  

When your gallbladder remains healthy and fully functional, it rarely (if ever) crosses your mind. However, when something goes wrong, gallbladder issues can be painful and disruptive to your daily life. 

Sure, everyone’s heard of gallstones before, but do you know what they are? Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that accumulated in your gallbladder. 

Gallbladder stones may be as tiny as a single grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. They could develop one at a time or as part of a group of multiple gallstones. 

If you’re wondering what causes gallstones, experts believe the following factors might increase your likelihood of developing them:

  • If your bile contains too much cholesterol
  • If your bile contains too much bilirubin
  • Your gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly, producing highly concentrated bile 

If you have gallstones, there’s a chance you won’t show any warning signs at all. Blockage caused by a gallstone lodged in a duct usually leads to:

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Back pain between your shoulder blades
  • Sudden, intensifying pain in the center or upper right portion of your abdomen

The pain of gallstone symptoms lasts anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Often, the discovery of gallstones requires surgical removal of your gallbladder. In the absence of gallstone symptoms, however, treatment is probably unnecessary. 

Cholecystitis is the inflammation of your gallbladder. (It should not be confused with acute cystitis, which is a UTI that triggers inflammation of your bladder.) In most situations, cholecystitis occurs when gallstones block the tube leading out of your gallbladder. 

Consequently, a buildup of excess bile creates gallbladder inflammation. Other potential culprits for cholecystitis include tumors, bile duct problems, serious illness, and infection. 

If left untreated, cholecystitis could be attributed to major health complications, such as a life-threatening gallbladder rupture. Note that treatment for cholecystitis also requires gallbladder removal in many instances.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Your abdominal area feels tender to the touch
  • Pain spreads to your back or right shoulder
  • Intense pain develops in the upper right or center portion of your abdomen

Cholecystitis symptoms tend to appear after a meal, especially when it’s very heavy or high in fat. 

Your pancreas is another small organ that is equally integral to the digestive process. It produces fluids and enzymes which help break down food. 

Unfortunately, gallstones have become one of the leading causes of pancreatitis. They block your bile duct, stopping pancreatic enzymes from traveling to your small intestine and forcing them back into your pancreas. These enzymes irritate the cells of your pancreas, resulting in painful inflammation and gallstone pancreatitis. 

A variety of tools are utilized to diagnose gallstone pancreatitis, including:

  • Blood tests to spot pancreatic inflammation
  • CT scans, MRIs, or ultrasounds to determine the severity
  • Body scans to check if a gallstone is blocking your duct and warrants removal

Keep in mind that treatment for gallstone pancreatitis typically requires a visit to the hospital.

Gallstone pancreatitis symptoms are quite painful and may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain that radiates toward your back
  • Abdominal pain that worsens after eating
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • An abnormal yellowish tinge to your eyes and/or skin (or jaundice)
  • Rapid pulse
  • Your abdomen is tender to the touch 

Choledocholithiasis refers to the existence of one or several gallstones in the common bile duct (a small tube which moves bile from your liver and gallbladder to your intestine). These gallstones might be composed of calcium, bile pigments, and cholesterol salts. Approximately one in seven gallstones patients develops stones in their common bile duct.

If you have a history of gallstones, your chances of developing choledocholithiasis increase. Surprisingly, even individuals who no longer have their gallbladder remain susceptible to choledocholithiasis.

Symptoms generally appear when a gallstone blocks the common bile duct and might include:

  • Pain in the right upper or middle upper abdomen,lasting at least 30 minutes
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Clay-colored stools  

Gallbladder polyps are abnormal tissue growths protruding from the inside of your gallbladder. Though 95 percent of gallbladder polyps turn out benign, in rare instances, they could be determined as cancerous. The size of the polyp is a good indicator of malignancy. Small gallbladder polyps (less than half an inch in diameter) are usually benign and don’t require treatment. 

More often than not, gallbladder polyp patients display the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Occasional pain on the right side of your upper abdomen

Despite the fact that gallbladder cancer is very rare, it does occur three to four times more often in women than men. Additionally, older patients appear more susceptible to gallbladder cancer, as the average age of diagnosis is 72 years. On an international scale, gallbladder cancer seems more prevalent in Pakistan and India, as well as certain Central European and South American countries.

Despite the fact that gallbladder cancer is very rare, it does occur three to four times more often in women than men.

Gallbladder cancer is challenging to diagnose because it shows no specific warning signs. Furthermore, your gallbladder is a small, partially hidden organ where cancer can grow undetected. 

If discovered in its early stages, gallbladder cancer has a fairly good prognosis. Unfortunately, if it’s found in the later stages, recovery is far more difficult.  

Gallbladder cancer symptoms overlap with those of several other gallbladder conditions and include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Jaundice

If you’re experiencing abdominal pain, along with any of the above gallbladder disease symptoms, consult your doctor. You may be able to catch a gallbladder problem before it progresses into something serious. 

Though diminutive in size, your gallbladder is a real workhorse, and it’s important to take good care of it. Symptoms of gallbladder dysfunction could lead to mild discomfort or serious health complications. Knowing the warning signs of common gallbladder conditions allows you to address problems as soon as possible.