Gallbladder Pain (Gall Bladder Pain)

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Gallbladder pain definition

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, gallstones, pancreatitis, and ascending cholangitis.

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.

What are the causes of gallbladder pain?

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 pain.

Illustration of Gallstones Forming in the Gallbladder
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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2013

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Gallbladder Diet

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.