The Most Likely Symptoms of a Gallbladder Problem (Don’t Ignore Them)

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The Most Likely Symptoms of a Gallbladder Issue

Most symptoms of gallbladder problems involve intense pain in the upper right abdomen that lasts for a few hours. Although gallstones are frequently to blame for gallbladder disease symptoms, there are also other reasons why you can have problems with your gallbladder. Inflammation, infections, or growths on the gallbladder can all cause shoulder pain, chest pain, nausea, and changes to your bowel habits.

Having a gallbladder attack is never a pleasant experience. The severe pain in your upper abdomen can be excruciating. This is usually a sign that you need to change your diet to help prevent having a cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder). Very often, making lifestyle changes can do a lot to help manage gallbladder symptoms.


In this article, you will learn about the main signs that you may have gallbladder problems. At the end of the article, you will find out what you can do to remedy a gallstone attack.

What is the Gallbladder and Where is it Located?

Your gallbladder is a small sac in the shape of a pear that is about 6 to 10 cm in length. Your gallbladder is located just below your liver in your right side at the upper part of the abdomen under the ribs.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the gallbladder holds about 50 ml (1.7 fl. oz.) of digestive bile. The bile is produced by the liver and contains a concentration of salts, cholesterol, and bile pigments like bilirubin. Bilirubin is the pigment that gives urine a yellow color and stools a brown color. That is why symptoms of gallbladder disease often affect the color of urine and stool.1

The main function of your gallbladder is to secrete digestive bile to help break down fats during the digestion process. The gallbladder forms part of the biliary system that secretes bile into the small intestine.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems

Let’s look in more detail at the symptoms associated with a sick gallbladder. Knowing what to look for can help to know if symptoms of a bad gallbladder are caused by gallstones, an infection, or inflammation.

Intense pain

Severe pain that gradually gets worse in the first hour and then lasts for a few hours or a few days is common with all types of gallbladder problems.

Right upper abdominal pain. Gallbladder problems usually feel like intense aching in your upper right abdomen under your ribs. The journal American Family Physician says that pain in your right side is associated with gallstones (cholelithiasis), cholecystitis, or cholangitis. These are all gallbladder issues that cause constant deep aches in your upper abdomen.2

Right shoulder pain. Researchers from Johns Hopkins say that gallbladder pain symptoms will also affect the area between your shoulders. Persistent pain in the right shoulder is also a common symptom of a bad gallbladder.3

Back pain. A gallbladder attack will also cause pain in your middle to upper back. The Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology reports that over half of people with gallbladder disease have pain that spreads from the abdomen to the back.4

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Chest pain. Signs of gallbladder disease can also cause pains that can feel like cardiac-related pain. A study in 2011 found that acute cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation) can mimic heart attack symptoms. The pain was described as severe sudden pain in the chest and upper abdomen.5

Severe upper abdominal pain on the right side and squeezing chest pains are types of pain that you should never ignore.

Nausea and vomiting

Feeling as if you want to throw up or vomit along with severe aching pains in your RUQ could be symptomatic of a gallbladder problem.

Dr. Douglas M. Heuman who specializes in liver diseases says that nausea and vomiting are common signs of problems with the biliary system. The digestive upset is usually accompanied by persistent intestinal pain that doesn’t go away with passing stool or gas.6

Diarrhea

If you have acute or chronic gallbladder dysfunction, you may find that you suffer from frequent bouts of diarrhea.

According to doctors, diarrhea can occur with gallstones if you eat spicy or fatty foods. Fatty foods often trigger gallbladder symptoms because dysfunction of the gallbladder means that bile can’t digest fats efficiently.7

If you frequently suffer from diarrhea after eating, try consuming ginger to help relax and soothe your digestive system. You can also try some delicious herbal teas to improve digestive health.

Acid reflux or bile reflux

You may experience frequent symptoms of heartburn if your gallbladder isn’t functioning properly. Gallbladder problems can cause acid reflux or bile reflux.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that bile reflux happens when digestive juices leak back into your stomach. This can cause symptoms like severe burning sensation in your stomach, abdominal pain, heartburn, or vomiting up bile.8

Acid reflux is different to bile reflux because acid reflux is when excess stomach acid gets into your esophagus. The Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology reports that symptoms of indigestion such as reflux or heartburn are a digestive issue common in people with gallstones.9

For some helpful tips on what to do if you have a burning sensation in your chest after eating, please read my article on how to treat heartburn naturally.

Bloating

Gallbladder inflammation because of a blockage can also cause bloating and abdominal discomfort.

Dr. Charles Patrick Davis on MedicineNet reports that as well as tenderness in the upper right abdomen, gallbladder issues can result in bloating.10 The bloating can last for as long as the gallbladder attack.

Bloating is usually a sign of gallbladder problems if it is accompanied by severe RUQ pain. You may be able to get some relief by trying one of my home remedies for gas and bloating. Sometimes, limiting fatty foods, dairy products, and managing stress better can help to prevent excessive abdominal bloating after eating.

Other Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease

Some symptoms of gallbladder issues can be symptomatic of a more serious gallbladder condition. Gallbladder disease is called biliary dyskinesia.

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Changes in stool and urine color

If a gallbladder dysfunction causes very little or no bile to be secreted, you may notice that your urine and stool change color. The lack of bile could be due to a blockage in the bile duct or another gallbladder issue.

According to gastroenterologist, Dr. Ali A. Siddiqui, a backup of bile in the liver can turn your urine brown. Depending on where the blockage occurs, you may also experience symptoms of pancreatitis.11

Signs of an acute gallbladder attack could also result in passing gray-colored or whitish stool. Dr. John P. Cunha on eMedicineHealth says that a lack of bile in the digestive system can turn stool clay-colored. The light-colored stool happens over time as the gallbladder disease progresses.12

There is a lot that you can tell about your health from the color of your urine. If you persistently pass dark urine, you should make sure that you are drinking enough fluids. Also, passing greasy stool or stool with white specks in it could be symptomatic of many digestive problems.

Jaundice

Another symptom of a serious gallbladder disorder is yellowish-looking skin or yellow in the whites of your eyes.

Dr. Steven K. Herrine, who is a gastroenterologist, says that too much bilirubin in the blood causes jaundice. Yellowing of the skin can happen if something interferes with the flow of bile or if there is a blockage in a bile duct. In rare cases, a serious liver disease could interfere with bile secretion.13

Symptoms of Gallbladder Infection

Very often a gallbladder attack occurs if an infection develops in the biliary system because of a blockage or damage to the gallbladder.

Fever and chills

Gallbladder infections will cause extreme abdominal pain under your right ribs along with a fever and shivering.

Doctors from Southern Cross says that irritation or a blockage in the gallbladder can result in an infection. The infection will cause a low-grade fever along with sweating and chills. It is important to seek medical attention if you have intense abdominal pain along with a fever. If left untreated, the gallbladder infection can affect the liver and pancreas.14

Common Gallbladder Problems

What are the common problems that can cause signs of a gallbladder attack? Let’s look at the main gallbladder issues.

Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)

Gallbladder inflammation is called cholecystitis and can be caused by a number of underlying gallbladder issues. Depending on the cause, a person could suffer from acute cholecystitis or chronic cholecystitis.

For example, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that the most common cause of acute cholecystitis is gallstones (medical name is cholelithiasis). When gallstones block a bile duct, the gallbladder can become inflamed. However, a tumor or problems with your blood vessels can also cause chronic gallbladder inflammation.15

Gallstones

Gallstones are the most common reason for short-term cholecystitis. Interestingly, many people have gallstones without showing any symptoms. However, if a gallstone blocks a duct, the result will be excruciating upper abdominal pain on the right side.

You will also experience many of the signs of gallbladder disease mentioned in this article.

Gallbladder polyps

A condition that can cause a bad gallbladder and symptoms of gallbladder dysfunction is polyps. The North American Journal of Medical Sciences says that gallbladder polyps are small growths that press on the gallbladder. They usually cause intermittent abdominal pain in the right upper quadrant.16

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Choledocholithiasis (common bile duct stones)

Choledocholithiasis is the medical name for gallstones that get lodged in the biliary system. If this happens, the result can be a painful gallbladder attack and possible complications like infection, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting.17

Common bile duct stones can also lead to other symptoms of a sick gallbladder like cholangitis, which is serious infection of the bile ducts, or require a cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder).

Gallbladder abscess

Acute cholecystitis can lead to a severe infection in the gallbladder that can have potentially serious consequences. Dr. Benjamin Pace on Medscape says that a gallbladder abscess can fill with infected bacterial fluid. This can cause debilitating abdominal pain along with a fever. If the abscess isn’t drained and treated properly, sepsis can occur.18

Cholangitis (Inflammation of the bile duct)

Inflammation of the bile duct can cause severe cramping aches on the right side of the upper abdomen. Doctors from Johns Hopkins say that causes of cholangitis can include gallstones, a blood clot, tumor, parasite infection, or swelling of the pancreas. Apart from intense abdominal pain, symptoms of cholangitis include yellow skin, passing dark urine and whitish stools, fever, and low blood pressure.19

Porcelain gallbladder

The Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal says that a buildup of calcium deposits in the gallbladder can cause a “porcelain gallbladder.” This calcification of the gallbladder causes the walls to thicken and in time the gallbladder loses functionality. The main symptom of this gallbladder disease is abdominal pain.20

Gallstone ileus

Dysfunction of your gallbladder can be caused by an intestinal obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract. According to the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, symptoms of gallstone ileus can include acute cholecystitis, gallbladder inflammation, and abdominal pain. In some cases, gallstone ileus can become a chronic condition that results in frequent bouts of crampy abdominal pain.21

Ruptured Gallbladder

Extreme upper right abdominal pain after a traumatic injury could be an indication that the gallbladder has ruptured.22

Also, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that chronic cholecystitis can lead to severe gallbladder dysfunction because of tissue death. Inflammation or swelling can also result in a ruptured gallbladder.23

Gallbladder cancer

The National Cancer Institute says that on rare occasions, symptoms of chronic gallbladder trouble could be caused by gallbladder cancer.24

What to Do About Gallbladder Problems

In many occasions, you can treat the symptoms of a gallbladder attack by changing your diet and using some effective home remedies. In fact, many doctors recommend the gallbladder diet to help reduce gallbladder pain and prevent the disease from progressing.

Gallbladder diet

Knowing what foods to eat and what foods to avoid can help to manage a dysfunctional gallbladder.

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Dr. Venkat Mohan on WebMD says that certain foods can aggravate signs of gallbladder disease and gallstones. The gallbladder diet should eliminate as much as possible fried foods, fatty red meat, pastries, processed food, as well as high-fat and cholesterol and low in fiber foods.25

Some foods that can help manage gallbladder problems can include whole grains, lean meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.

Some scientific studies also point to the fact that coffee and moderate amounts of alcohol have a preventative effect on gallstone formation.25

Apple cider vinegar mixed with apple juice

There is some evidence that drinking apple juice and apple cider vinegar can help to soften gallstones and reduce gallbladder pain symptoms.

The journal The Lancet published a doctor’s comments about one person who self-treated himself for gallstones by drinking a large amount of apple juice for a week.26

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid and also some levels of pectin. The journal Experientia reported that pectin has been shown to be effective in reducing the size of gallstones.27

Please read my article about symptoms and treatments of gallbladder attack to find out how to use apple cider vinegar to help stop pain during a gallstone attack.

Peppermint

Drink peppermint tea or take peppermint oil capsules to help manage symptoms of gallbladder disease.

The journal American Family Physician reported that peppermint has long been used to soothe many digestive and biliary issues.28 Some studies have confirmed that peppermint oil can help to reduce the severity of gallbladder attacks and soothe the intestinal tract.29

Vitamin C

Taking vitamin C is another way to treat gallstones and prevent them from becoming a gastrointestinal problem that causes abdominal pain.

Vitamin C is full of antioxidants that are essential for your general health. However, the journal Alternative Medical Reviews reports that vitamin C supplements can help to prevent gallstones from forming. Vitamin C helps to convert cholesterol to bile salts and therefore helps to prevent gallstone disease.30

Gallbladder cleanse

While there is no scientific evidence, many people recommend a gallbladder cleanse to help flush toxins from the digestive and biliary system. It is claimed that drinking a combination of olive oil, herbs and some type of fruit juice for two or more days can help to cleanse the gallbladder and assist in breaking up stones.

Doctors on Mayo Clinic warn that side effects from this cleanse may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea during the cleansing period.31

When to See a Doctor

In many cases, gallstones don’t show any symptoms at all, or only cause the occasional gallbladder attack. In these cases, managing your gallbladder symptoms through diet and healthy lifestyle choices is usually the best solution.

However, severe upper abdominal pain and other symptoms of gallbladder problems usually require that you see a doctor. According to Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD, you should see a doctor for gallbladder issues if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Read my other related articles:

Medical Sources

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