Gallbladder pain is an all-inclusive term to describe any discomfort related to disease of the gallbladder. Located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen just below the liver, the gallbladder is responsible for storing bile which helps the body break down and digest the food, specifically fat, you eat. The liver produces bile, which then flows through the bile duct into the gallbladder where it is stored until needed. Upon eating fatty or greasy food, the small intestine releases a hormone signaling the need for bile. It is then released by the gallbladder into the small intestine to aid in digestion. The most common gallbladder problems resulting in pain are:

Biliary Colic: This happens when the gallbladder contracts and the cystic duct becomes partially or fully blocked by a gallstone. This intermittent blockage can cause sudden and increasing pain or pressure in the upper abdomen that can expand up into the shoulder. Some individuals also experience nausea and vomiting. Pain related to Biliary Colic usually subsides within one to five hours but can last up to a day.

Cholecystitis: As a result of gallstones, inflammation can occur in the gallbladder tissue. Similar to Biliary Colic, individuals with Cholecystitis will experience pain in the upper right abdomen into the shoulder but the duration of discomfort is much longer and can be accompanied by sweating, fever, chills, and bloating.

Gallstones: These are tiny stones that form when bile and cholesterol harden together. These stones can block the release of stored bile in the gallbladder. Gallstones can cause sever pain that increases upon eating fatty or greasy foods and can also cause jaundice.

Pancreatitis: When a gallstone blocks the pancreatic duct pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, occurs. This can cause upper abdominal pain that increases with eating and can also be felt in the back.

Ascending Cholangitis: Ascending Cholangitis is an infection of the biliary tree from obstruction of the common bile duct by a gallstone causing fever, abdominal pain, jaundice, and possibly low blood pressure. This is considered a medical emergency and should be treated immediately.

If you are experiencing gallbladder pain your physician may order one or multiple tests to pinpoint the problem in order to make a proper diagnosis. This could include:

  • Liver function test,
  • Complete blood count (CBC),
  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound,
  • CT scan
  • Hepatobiliary Iminodiacetic Acid Scan (HIDA),
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), or
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Premier Surgical Associates, the largest surgical group in the Knoxville region, are certified by the American Board of Surgery and have specialized knowledge and skills related to the diagnosis, pre-operative, operative and post-operative management of the biliary tract and pancreas.  If you are experiencing gallbladder pain schedule an appointment with your primary care physician and request a referral to Premier Surgical today. To learn more about Premier Surgical and our specific surgical offerings click here.