Gallbladder disease includes inflammation, infection, stones or blockage of the gallbladder, a small sac located underneath the liver that stores and concentrates bile. Bile from the liver aids in the digestion of fat and is released from the gallbladder into the upper small intestine in response to food.
Types of gallbladder disease include:
- Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
- Chronic acalculous gallbladder disease (occurs when natural movements needed to empty the gallbladder do not work properly)
- Gangrene or abscesses
- Growths of tissue in the gallbladder
- Sclerosing cholangitis
- Tumors of the gallbladder and bile ducts
Risk factors for gallbladder disease include:
- Gender – women are more likely to develop gallstones for example
- Family history of gallbladder disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
The most common (and mildest) symptom of gallbladder disease is intermittent pain called biliary colic. Typically, a patient experiences a steady gripping or gnawing pain in the upper right abdomen near the rib cage, which can be severe and radiate to the upper back. Some patients with biliary colic experience the pain behind the breastbone, and nausea or vomiting may occur.
Those with symptomatic gallstones develop inflammation in the gallbladder (acute cholecystitis), which occurs when stones or sludge block the duct. Symptoms are similar to those of biliary colic but are more persistent and severe, including pain in the upper right abdomen that is severe and constant and may last for days. Pain frequently increases when drawing a breath.
Chronic gallbladder disease involves gallstones and mild inflammation. In such cases, the gallbladder may become scarred and stiff. Symptoms of chronic gallbladder disease include nausea, gas, abdominal discomfort after meals and chronic diarrhea.
Stones lodged in the common bile duct can cause symptoms that are similar to those produced by stones that lodge in the gallbladder, but they may also cause:
- Dark urine, lighter stools or both
- Rapid heartbeat and abrupt blood pressure drop
- Fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, with pain in the upper right abdomen