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What is Chronic Cholecystitis?

By Madeleine A.
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chronic cholecystitis is an irritation and swelling of the gallbladder that has been long standing. Typically, chronic cholecystitis is brought on by repeated and frequent gallbladder attacks, or acute cholecystitis. Generally, when this condition occurs, the walls of the gallbladder begin to thicken. In addition, shrinkage of the gallbladder occurs, and eventually its ability to properly function is diminished. When the gallbladder does not perform adequately, it cannot properly house and release bile.

Commonly, chronic cholecystitis is seen more frequently in women than men, and the incidence of this condition usually rises after age forty. The main risk factor for chronic cholecystitis often is gallstones. In this case of chronic cholecystitis, the symptoms the patient experiences are similar those normally caused by gallstones. Symptoms usually include upper right quadrant abdominal pain that may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. In acute cases, pain may be severe and mimic a heart attack.

Other than gallstones, common risk factors for chronic cholecystitis include being overweight. Generally, being overweight is related to a diet that is high in fat. Typically, gallbladder disease is worsened by a high-fat diet, as it may cause the gallbladder to contract and not function properly. As the gallbladder contracts, it causes pain.

Diagnostic tests usually are very effective in the diagnosis and evaluation of cholecystitis. Medical tests that are commonly used to detect chronic cholecystitis include abdominal CT scans and abdominal ultrasounds. The abdominal ultrasound is the preferred medical diagnostic test because it employs the use of sound waves to capture structural images rather than using radiation. In addition, gallbladder scans are sometimes used to view not only the gallbladder, but the bile ducts as well.

Typical treatments for chronic cholecystitis include the use of oral medications that are generally effective in dissolving gallstones. Oral gallstone dissolving medication is the treatment of choice if the patient is unable to undergo surgery. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Removing the gallbladder via laparoscopy or open surgery removes the offending organ and stones, eliminating symptoms for good.

In addition to medication and surgery, other effective treatments for chronic cholecystitis symptoms include weight loss, adopting a low-fat diet and smoking cessation. Over-the-counter medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, may be effective in reducing pain from gallbladder disease. Occasionally, the physician may prescribe an opioid-based analgesic in cases where pain is severe or unrelenting. Sometimes, herbal preparations, such as chamomile tea, can be effective in decreasing gallbladder contractions and discomfort.

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