Gallbladder pain can be sudden, severe, and painful. The most common causes of pain are gallstones and hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form inside your gallbladder. Inflammation or infection of your gallbladder is another possible culprit. The good news is that there are treatments available to effectively relieve gallbladder pain. Read on to learn more about how gallbladder pain feels and how to reduce discomfort.
How does gallbladder pain feel?
General pain manifests itself in the upper right abdomen above the liver. Bile helps break down fats during digestion and consists of the following substances:
Your liver constantly makes bile until it consumes food. When you eat, your stomach releases a hormone that causes the muscles around your gallbladder to release bile. Gallbladder pain is an indication that something is not right. When gallstones cause blockage of one of the ducts that move bile, they can trigger sudden and increased pain sometimes referred to as a “gallstone attack”.
The pain is usually felt in your upper right abdomen but may spread to the upper part of your back or scapula. Some people also experience pain in the center of the abdomen just below the breastbone. This discomfort can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Gallstones do not always cause pain. According to the Canadian Intestinal Research Association, studies show that around 50 percent of patients with gallstones do not experience symptoms.
How is the pain of gall bladder inflammation?
Inflammation of your gallbladder, a condition called cholecystitis, usually occurs when gallstones block the tube that comes out of your gallbladder. This causes bile buildup that can cause inflammation. Other conditions can trigger inflammation of your gallbladder, including:
- serious illnesses
- bile duct problems
- certain infections
Symptoms of cholecystitis can be:
- severe pain in your right upper abdomen or in the middle of your abdomen
- pain that spreads to your right shoulder or back
- tenderness on your stomach
- nausea or vomiting
These symptoms usually occur after a meal, especially after a large or fatty meal. If left untreated, cholecystitis can lead to serious, even life-threatening complications such as gallbladder rupture and gangrene.
How is the pain of gallbladder infection?
Gallbladder infection is another condition that can occur when a gallstone causes a blockage. When bile builds up, it can become infected and lead to a rupture or abscess. Symptoms of gallbladder infection include:
- abdominal pain
- difficulty breathing
What diseases are there that mimic gallbladder pain?
Other conditions can cause symptoms similar to gallbladder pain, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Some of these are those:
- Gallbladder cancer. Gallbladder cancer can cause abdominal pain, itching, bloating, and fever. Imaging tests can help your doctor determine if the pain you’re feeling is caused by cancer or gallstones.
- While appendicitis typically causes pain in the lower right side of your abdomen, you may feel gallbladder pain in the upper-middle-right area, usually towards your back.
- Heart attack. Other heart attack symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness, and jaw, neck, or back pain.
- Pancreatitis is an inflammation of your pancreas. This can cause pain similar to a gallbladder attack. However, you may experience other symptoms in pancreatitides, such as weight loss, rapid heart rate, and oily or foul-smelling stools, according to the University of Iowa.
- Ulcers. Ulcers can sometimes cause abdominal pain, but can also trigger burning stomach pain, bloating, feeling of fullness, belching, heartburn, and other symptoms.
- Inflammatory bowel diseases. Some bowel diseases can mimic the symptoms of gallbladder pain, but can also cause diarrhea, bloody stools, and weight loss.
- Kidney stone. Kidney stones can cause sharp pain in your stomach, side, and back. You may also need pink, red, or brown urine, foul-smelling urine, cloudy urine, or constant urination.
When to see which doctor for gallbladder pain?
If you have any symptoms of gallbladder pain that concern you, you should call your internal medicine physician immediately. Certain complications of a gallstone attack can be serious or life-threatening. If you are experiencing the following situations, you should seek emergency medical help immediately:
- severe abdominal pain
- yellowing or discoloration of your skin or the whites of your eyes
- high fever with chills
How does gallbladder pain pass?
You may want to apply a warmed compress to the area to relieve discomfort. After the gallstones pass, the pain usually subsides. Traditional treatment options for a gallbladder attack include surgery to remove your gallbladder or medications to help dissolve gallstones. You can prevent a gallstone attack by reducing your fatty food intake and maintaining a healthy weight. Some other measures that can reduce your chances of having gallbladder pain include:
- Eating according to a schedule. Skipping meals or fasting can increase the risk of gallstones.
- Consume more fiber. Foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains contain plenty of fiber.
- Try to lose weight slowly. If you lose weight too quickly, the risk of developing gallstones increases. Aim for 1 kg per week.
- To exercise. According to the Canadian Intestinal Research Association, research shows that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of gallstones.
- Check your medication. Some medications, such as postmenopausal hormones, can increase the risk of gallbladder disease.
- Try magnesium. Studies show that men who consume the most magnesium have a lower risk of developing gallstone disease.