What’s The Difference Between A Gallbladder Attack And Gallstones?

abdominal-painWhen abdominal pain occurs, the gallbladder may be to blame. The gallbladder is a sac that sits in the upper right abdomen that stores bile produced by the liver. The bile aids in the digestion of the food you eat. Most of the time, the gallbladder functions normally, but when it becomes blocked or infected it may become a very painful and potentially dangerous medical condition.

Being overweight, heredity, or hormones and pregnancy are common risk factors for gallbladder maladies. Many patients are confused about the difference between “gallbladder attacks” and “gallstones.” General Surgeon Dr. Roland B. Weast, MD, FACS, at Premier Surgical Associates of Knoxville, says, “Gallbladder attacks are often triggered by diet, such as if you’ve just eaten a heavy or greasy meal. The pain usually occurs in the upper right abdomen, and may radiate to the right shoulder or back. Gallbladder attacks may cause diarrhea, fever, or chills, but the symptoms should ease after a half-hour to an hour.”

In the case of gallstones, an imbalance in the bile causes pebble-like deposits to form. If gallstones block the bile ducts, pressure increases in the gallbladder. This can cause pain that, as with a gallbladder attack, may radiate to out the right shoulder or back.

Gallstones may cause mild symptoms for months or even years. They gallstones may pass on their own, but if the pain increases in intensity over time and becomes more generalized, the gallbladder may be infected.

When To Call Your Doctor

Dr. Weast advises that if the pain doesn’t ease after an hour, your upper right abdomen is tender to the touch, and you have a fever or the chills, your gallbladder may be infected and you should call your doctor immediately. An infected gallbladder has the potential to be life-threatening.

If you have gallbladder disease, your gastroenterologist may recommend removing your gallbladder. Fortunately, the gallbladder isn’t necessary for survival, and the surgical procedures to remove it have evolved so that it’s typically an out-patient procedure.

Premier Surgical Associates is the largest surgical group in the Knoxville region, providing comprehensive surgical care, with referrals from across the entire East Tennessee region. To learn more about our specialties, visit Premier Surgical Associates.

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