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The gallbladder is an organ found near the liver and is responsible for storing a digestive liquid known as bile. A gallbladder infection, also known as acute cholecystitis, occurs when the gallbladder becomes inflamed and irritated. Some potential causes of a gallbladder infection include gallstones, a faulty immune system, or prolonged use of intravenous fluids. Symptoms of a gallbladder infection may include abdominal or shoulder pain, nausea, and fever. Treatment for a gallbladder infection may involve prescription medications such as antibiotics and pain relievers, dietary changes, and, in the more severe situations, surgery to remove the gallbladder.
Gallstones are the most common cause of gallbladder infections. Gallstones are hardened masses resembling stones or pebbles that are formed inside the gallbladder. These stones are usually quite small, but they may become large enough to cause a blockage. This blockage may lead to a gallbladder infection. Medical tests such as a CT scan or abdominal ultrasound may be performed to confirm the presence of gallstones.
The symptoms of a gallbladder infection may appear suddenly or develop over a period of several days. Often, the sufferer will feel pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen. This pain frequently radiates to the right shoulder. An elevated body temperature may or may not be present. Many people will experience a constant feeling of nausea, which can sometimes lead to vomiting.
In many cases, an infection of the gallbladder can be successfully treated with antibiotics and pain medication. If the infection returns regularly or if there are complications, more aggressive treatment options may need to be considered. Any abdominal pain that comes on suddenly or becomes excruciating, especially if accompanied by a fever, should be reported to a doctor right away. If left untreated, a gallbladder infection may cause the gallbladder to rupture, thus releasing toxins into the bloodstream. A life-threatening infection known as gangrene may then develop.
Surgery to remove an infected gallbladder is a relatively common medical procedure. This type of surgery is typically done on an outpatient basis, although some situations require a more involved type of surgical procedure called open surgery. This is more likely to become necessary if the gallbladder is ruptured or if gangrene is present. The patient undergoing open surgery frequently spends several days in the hospital, and the overall recovery time may last a few weeks longer than in patients who have had the outpatient procedure.