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What are Some Common Diseases Affecting the Gallbladder?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 17, 2024
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Located beneath the liver, the gallbladder is a sac responsible for storing and concentrating bile. The most common conditions affecting this organ are caused by gallstones, which can obstruct or slow down the flow of bile from the organ. A number of other diseases can also affect the gallbladder, however, and they are more common as men and women grow older.

Gallstones, also called cholelithiasis, are made up of cholesterol or bilirubin that build up in the gallbladder. Many people don't notice small ones, but if a stone grows larger than 0.3 inches (8 mm), it can cause pain and other symptoms. Cholelithiasis often causes cramp-like pain in the right upper abdomen. Other symptoms can include clay-colored stools, nausea, vomiting, excess gas, heartburn, and abdominal fullness. Women develop gallstones more frequently than men.

If a gallstone blocks the common bile duct or the cystic duct, it can cause serious health problems. The gallbladder holds bile, a substance that helps with digestion, and sends it to the small intestine through the cystic duct to the common bile duct, which also connects to the liver. When one of these ducts is blocked, bile can build up in the gallbladder, causing a condition called choledocholithiasis. Jaundice and fever may occur, and hospitalization is normally required at this stage to either break up the stone or remove the gallbladder.

Acute cholecystitis is characterized by the sudden inflammation of the gallbladder. This is also usually caused by gallstones and a backup of bile in the organ. Trapped and unable to flow properly, the bile builds in concentration, causing irritation and the build-up of pressure. Other symptoms include pain in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and fever. This condition can also cause the organ to become infected, and it can perforate, developing a hole. Antibiotics can be prescribed to treat an infection, and the gallbladder may be removed.

If the lower end of the common bile duct is blocked, it can cause pancreatitis. This is when the enzymes in the pancreas become active inside the organ and cause pain, vomiting, and internal bleeding. This condition requires immediate hospitalization.

Acalculous cholecystitis is a gallbladder disease that is not associated with gallstones. This inflammation can sometimes occur in patients suffering or recovering from major illnesses, trauma, burns, vascular disease, or deficiencies of the immune system. Though this condition is serious, it is also rare.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Sep 22, 2012

Is gallbladder disease something that is considered hereditary? Both of my grandmothers and my dad have had gallbladder surgery. Whenever I start to have pain in my right side, I immediately think I am going to end up having gallbladder surgery too.

By Mykol — On Sep 21, 2012

I have gallbladder pain after I eat food that is greasy or spicy. If I eat late at night before going to bed, this also gives me pain. I was told the best thing to do is avoid those greasy foods that can cause so many problems.

A doctor friend of mine also told me to drink hot water and lemon juice first thing every morning whether I was having gallbladder pain or not. She said this was something her mom did almost every day to clean out the sludge from her system and keep her gallbladder working properly.

By andee — On Sep 20, 2012

I thought I was having gallbladder problems, but it was actually gastritis and heartburn. I also went through an ultrasound looking for gallstones and another test to see if my gallbladder was working or not. In addition to this I had a colonoscopy and endoscopy to rule out additional problems.

The endoscopy showed that I had chronic gastritis which was the cause of my symptoms. My symptoms were similar to gallbladder disease, but I didn't have the sharp, intense pain that someone with gallstones would have.

My doctor told me that gallbladder symptoms can be similar to many other problems so that is why they ran so many tests to find out specifically what was wrong.

By SarahSon — On Sep 20, 2012

You can have gallbladder disease without having gallstones. Before I finally had my gallbladder removed, I had more than one gallbladder attack. I have also had more than one ultrasound looking for gallstones, and none were ever found.

Once I had my gallbladder removed, I didn't have any more problems. I put up with some slight, nagging pain in my right side for quite awhile before I finally had my gallbladder taken out. They never really found a specific reason for my gallbladder going bad, but I know that I have felt much better since it was removed.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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