Gallbladder pain can be either acute or chronic. Acute gallbladder symptoms are those that accompany a gallbladder attack and are characterized by sharp, stabbing pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, nausea, vomiting and possible fever and chills. Chronic gallbladder symptoms are frequent dull pain in the same area, upper right side of the abdomen sometimes accompanied by nausea, gas and bloating and possibly burping.
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People can go for years with digestive symptoms and never realize that they may be related to a problem with their gallbladder. That's because they are so interwoven with other digestive symptoms such as indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and nausea and general digestive discomfort. Constipation and weight gain can also be signs of gallbladder problems.
What Causes Gallbladder Problems
There could be infection in the gallbladder causing tenderness or the tenderness could simply be due to stasis of bile causing distention. The gallbladder could be not emptying fully (biliary dyskinesia) and lack of bile causes improper fat digestion.
Gallbladder Symptoms That Start In The Liver
It's possible that the gallbladder symptoms you are experiencing are caused by a problem that started in your liver – for example, stasis of liver bile and the formation of sludge or tiny calculi, which slows the bile flow and causes it to thicken.
This does not necessarily cause a full-on gallbladder attack, but rather contributes to vague, uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
Gallbladder symptoms may include any of the following:
• Pain or tenderness under the rib cage on the right side
• Indigestion after eating, especially fatty or greasy foods
• Feeling of fullness or food not digesting
• Constipation or frequent use of laxatives
• Headache over eyes, especially right
• Bitter fluid comes up after eating
• Pain between shoulder blades or right shoulder
• Fatty Stools
• Chalky Stools
• Gas & Bloating
• Burps & Belches
Gallbladder Attack Symptoms
• Pain or tenderness under the rib cage on the right side
• Pain in the right shoulder
• Pain between shoulder blades
• Girdle pain or pressure that wraps around mid-cage
• Pressure or fullness mid-center below the sternum
• Nausea or Vomiting
• Often at night
• Frequently following a fatty meal
• Lasts 15 mins – 4 hrs up to 24 hrs
What Causes The Symptoms Of A Gallbladder Attack?
The most common cause of a gallbladder attack is a gallstone that gets stuck in the neck of the gallbladder or in the cystic duct or common bile duct. The pain is caused by the bile trying to move but is unable to due to the blockage of the duct by the stone. However, the same symptoms of an attack can happen in someone with acalculous gallbladder disease (no stones) as well. A low-functioning gallbladder or a non-functioning gallbladder receives the signal to contract but cannot, resulting in pain. Sphincter of Oddi disorder and biliary hyperdyskinesia can also cause a gallbladder attack.
Underlying Causes of Gallbladder Disease
These are the immediate causes of an attack, and because eating fats causes the gallbladder to contract (or to try to), fats can be considered to cause the gallbladder attack.
However, one also needs to look at the root of the problem. Why is the gallbladder unable to contract? It is made of muscles that are designed to contract and eject the stored bile, after all. Inflammation in the gallbladder walls is one theory.
Another question may be, why did gallstones form in the first place? There are many contributing factors leading to the formation of gallstones, with diet being only one of several on the list. High carbohydrates in the diet, refined foods as well as insulin resistance or blood sugar problems are in that list. Low thyroid, excessive hormones, sedentary lifestyle and two dozen more.
So You Have Gallbladder Symptoms – What Happens Next?
Well, don’t assume you have gallstones. Visit your doctor, get an ultrasound which is generally the first step taken in formulating a diagnosis. If gallbladder stones are found, surgery is usually the recommended treatment of choice.
If no gallstones are seen, your doctor might order a HIDA scan which stands for hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid scan, to see if the bile is flowing freely and to measure the ejection fraction or the percentage of bile that is ejected following a simulated fatty meal. Radioactive dye is what they use to track this. A normal ejection fraction is somewhere between 33-42% give or take. The gallbladder does not eject 100% of the bile. In fact, over 75% of ejection is called a hyperkinetic gallbladder or hyperkinesis and is considered a pathology in and of itself and can cause much pain.
When Gallbladder Symptoms Send You To The Hospital
Often if you visit the emergency room in the middle of an attack they will give you pain killers and muscle relaxants and send you home, telling you to see a surgeon and schedule gallbladder removal surgery at a later date.
Part of the wisdom in this is because a gallbladder attack will generally subside after a few hours and it causes a lot of inflammation in the area. Excessive inflammation makes it more difficult to see what is going on in there and easier to make mistakes during surgery. So, unless there is an obvious blockage with jaundice, or if there is a fever and/or chills indicating an infection, most likely you will be advised to return for surgery when you are feeling better.
While Waiting For Surgery...
There are steps you can take with your diet, your lifestyle and supplements to minimize any discomfort, reduce inflammation and support your bile, your gallbladder, and all of your digestion.
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Navigate the grocery story with ease when you download our complimentary shopping list, which includes the best food choices when you are suffering from gallbladder symptoms, as well as the foods you'll want to avoid.