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Gallbladder pain definition overview
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.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Gallstones may cause no signs or symptoms. If a gallstone lodges in a duct and causes a blockage, signs and symptoms may result, such as:
♦ Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen
♦ Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the center of your abdomen, just below your breastbone
♦ Back pain between your shoulder blades
♦ Pain in your right shoulder
Gallstone pain may last several minutes to a few hours.
Symptoms that associated with gallbladder pain
Gallbladder pain may vary; many people with gallstones never experience pain. However, there are some variations in gallbladder pain that help the doctor to make a diagnosis.
♦ Biliary colic (intermittent duct blockage): Sudden and rapidly increasing pain (ache or pressure) in the right upper abdomen or epigastric area; some people will have pain radiating to the right shoulder and/or also develop nausea and vomiting. The pain usually subsides in about 1 to 5 hours although a mild ache may persist for about a day.
♦ Cholecystitis (inflammation of gallbladder tissue secondary to duct blockage): severe steady pain in the right upper abdomen that may radiate to the right shoulder or back, abdominal tenderness when touched or pressed, sweating, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and bloating; discomfort lasts longer than with biliary colic.
♦ Acalculous cholecystitis (no gallstones) has similar symptoms to cholecystitis but occurs as a complication of other problems like trauma or burns; patients have severe symptoms and appear very ill.
♦ Pancreatitis: Gallstones from the gallbladder can block the pancreatic duct and cause pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) with upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back, tender abdomen, more pain after eating, with nausea and vomiting.
♦ Ascending cholangitis (or simply cholangitis or infection of the biliary system) causes fever, abdominal pain, jaundice and even hypotension (low blood pressure), and confusion; it is a medical emergency.
Gallbladder: What It Does
The gallbladder is a little sac that stores bile from the liver, and it’s found just beneath your liver. The gallbladder releases bile, via the cystic duct, into the small intestine to help break down the foods you eat particularly fatty foods.
Typically the gallbladder doesn’t cause too many problems or much concern, but if something slows or blocks the flow of bile from the gallbladder, a number of problems can result and lead to gallbladder disease.
Types of gallstones
Types of gallstones that can form in the gallbladder include:
♦ Cholesterol gallstones. The most common type of gallstone, called a cholesterol gallstone, often appears yellow in color. These gallstones are composed mainly of undissolved cholesterol, but may contain other components.
♦ Pigment gallstones. These dark brown or black stones form when your bile contains too much bilirubin.
Factors that may increase your risk of gallstones include:
♦ Being female
♦ Being age 60 or older
♦ Being an American Indian
♦ Being a Mexican-American
♦ Being overweight or obese
♦ Being pregnant
♦ Eating a high-fat diet
♦ Eating a high-cholesterol diet
♦ Eating a low-fiber diet
♦ Having a family history of gallstones
♦ Having diabetes
♦ Losing weight very quickly
♦ Taking some cholesterol-lowering medications
♦ Taking medications that contain estrogen, such as hormone therapy drugs