How often have you thought about your gallbladder? Chances are it’s not exactly top-of-mind, but the small organ located beneath the liver in the upper right section of your abdomen plays a crucial role in your digestive system.
Below we break down both the function of the gallbladder as well as the symptoms of an attack. Moreover, we look into how you can prevent a gallbladder attack and how to seek treatment if you’re experiencing symptoms.
What does the gallbladder do?
The gallbladder is responsible for producing and storing bile, which helps break down fat from food into your intestine. When the gallbladder delivers bile to the small intestine, essential vitamins and nutrients can be better absorbed into the bloodstream.
Since the small but mighty organ still plays an important part in healthy digestion, if it becomes blocked or disrupted, it can lead to an attack.
What are the symptoms of a gallbladder attack?
While you may not think about your gallbladder on a day-to-day basis, you’ll definitely start to notice the area if you experience any of the below symptoms:
1. Abdominal Pain
One of the primary symptoms of a gallbladder attack is severe abdominal pain. The pain typically occurs in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, but it can also radiate to the back or shoulder. The intensity of the pain can vary, ranging from mild to excruciating. It often manifests as a sharp, gripping sensation that may last for several hours and may be accompanied by tenderness upon touch.
2. Nausea and Vomiting
During a gallbladder attack, individuals may experience bouts of nausea and vomiting. Though this symptom is commonly associated with the body's response to intense pain, nausea may be accompanied by a feeling of indigestion or an overall discomfort in the upper abdomen. Some people may find relief after vomiting, while others may continue to experience nausea even after emptying their stomach.
Jaundice, characterized by a yellowing of the skin and eyes, can indicate a more severe gallbladder condition. When a gallstone blocks the bile duct, it can lead to the buildup of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during the breakdown of red blood cells.
4. Fever and Chills
In some cases, a gallbladder attack can trigger an infection, resulting in fever and chills. If the bile duct becomes obstructed, bacteria can multiply and cause an infection known as cholecystitis. Along with abdominal pain, fever, and chills, individuals may experience a rapid heartbeat and an overall feeling of illness.
5. Changes in Bowel Movements
Some individuals may experience diarrhea, while others may notice light-colored stools due to the decreased flow of bile. The stool may appear greasy or float in the toilet bowl.
What should I do if I think I’m having a gallbladder attack?
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you must see a doctor immediately. This is important since there are other potentially dangerous health problems like appendicitis or a heart attack that can mimic the pain or other symptoms associated with a gallbladder attack.
Prompt medical attention can help alleviate symptoms, prevent complications, and ensure the well-being of your gallbladder and digestive health.
What are the causes of a gallbladder attack?
The following are all conditions that can lead to gallbladder disease:
Common bile duct infection: this happens when the common bile duct is obstructed.
Inflammation of the gallbladder: This is called cholecystitis and can be either acute or chronic.
Gallbladder cancer: This type of cancer is rare, though if it’s not detected and treated early, it can spread quickly.
Gallbladder polyps: These small abnormal tissue growths are typically benign, but larger polyps may need to be surgically removed as they can develop into cancer or cause other issues.
Porcelain gallbladder: This happens when calcium deposits stiffen gallbladder walls making them rigid.
Gallstones: These are the small, hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder when there is an overabundance of cholesterol in the gallbladder. Read more about them and their possible complications below:
What do I need to know about gallstones?
While gallstones are common – and can often be asymptomatic – they can eventually cause issues, including inflammation, infection, and severe pain, and can ultimately lead to a gallbladder attack.
There are a few factors that can increase your risk for gallstones:
Family history of gallstones and gallbladder disease
Being over 60 years old
Being a woman
Being overweight or obese
Taking estrogen or hormone medications
Eating a diet that is low in fiber and high in cholesterol or fat
Gallstones are more likely to form if there is an excess of cholesterol in the bile, so the best way to prevent them is to reduce your fatty food intake, get plenty of exercise, stay properly hydrated, and maintain a healthy weight.
How do you treat gallstones?
Sometimes medications are prescribed that can help to break up the gallstones if they cannot pass on their own. It may be time to consider having surgery to remove your gallbladder if:
You’re dealing with severe cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
There is an infection
The gallbladder doesn’t work or has stopped working
The gallbladder is causing significant pain and other problems
There is a tumor on the gallbladder
If you are dealing with gallstones or gallbladder pain and want to discuss ways to prevent these problems in the future, or whether you should have your gallbladder removed, make an appointment with Summit Digestive today via the online appointment request tool here or call us at (630) 889-9889. A trusted provider from our team can tell you the best way to treat your gallbladder symptoms or whether you may need to consider surgery.