Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
Gallbladder pain is an all-inclusive term used to describe any pain due to
disease related to the gallbladder. The major gallbladder problems that produce
gallbladder pain are biliary colic, cholecystitis,
A brief review of the gallbladder anatomy and function may help readers
better understand gallbladder pain. The gallbladder is connected to the liver
via ducts that supply bile to the gallbladder for storage. These bile ducts then
form the common hepatic duct that joins with the cystic duct from the
gallbladder to form the common bile duct that empties into the GI tract
(duodenum). In addition, the pancreatic duct usually merges with the common bile
duct just before it enters the duodenum. Hormones trigger the gallbladder to
release bile when fat and amino acids reach the duodenum after eating a meal
(see illustration below), which facilitates the digestion of these foods.
As stated previously, the major gallbladder problems that produce gallbladder
pain are biliary colic, cholecystitis, gallstones, pancreatitis, and ascending
cholangitis. There are two major causes of pain that either originate from the
gallbladder or involve the gallbladder directly. They are due to 1) intermittent or
complete blockage of any of the ducts by gallstones; or 2) gallstone sludge and/or
inflammation that may accompany irritation or infection of the surrounding
tissues, when partial or complete obstruction of ducts causes pressure and
ischemia (inadequate blood supply due to a blockage of blood vessels in the
area) to develop in the adjacent tissues.
Gallstones usually form in the
gallbladder, but may form in any of the ducts. When the gallbladder is
compressed (squeezed by musculature), bile usually goes out through the ducts
into the GI tract; however, if gallstones or gallstone sludge is present, there
can be partial or complete blockage of the ducts with pressure on the
surrounding tissue, sometimes enough to cause local ischemia. Other processes
such as trauma can cause gallbladder pain. Infection of the biliary ducts and
the gallbladder, usually occurring after gallstone obstruction also can cause
Illustration of Gallstones Forming in the Gallbladder
What is biliary colic?
Biliary colic is a term used to describe the type of pain related to the
gallbladder, when the gallbladder contracts and the cystic duct is partially or
completely blocked by a gallstone. The symptoms are described below.
Viewer question: My sister had her gallbladder removed recently. What kind of diet will she need to be on, and will she now be at greater risk for heart disease?
Doctors response: The gallbladder is a sac that
stores bile made by the liver in between meals. After a meal, the gallbladder
squeezes the bile it has stored into the intestine. In the intestine, the bile
mixes with food and fat. Bile is important because it helps with the digestion
of fat and its transfer from the intestine into the body.