According to medical experts at the University of Michigan Medical School, inflammation on the gallbladder typically results when gallstones become trapped in the duct where bile usually flows. Doctors note that inflammation of the gallbladder, which is located under the right rib cage, can place pressure on the right phrenic nerve, and this can produce very uncomfortable neuropathy, or nerve pain that travels to the right shoulder.
Location and Function of the Gallbladder
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the gallbladder is a small organ located under the liver in the upper right abdomen. The gallbladder makes bile, the liquid that helps the body digest fat. Bile passes from the gallbladder to the small intestine through the bile duct, a small tube-shaped passageway between the two organs.
Gallstones and Gallbladder Pain
The NIH notes that liquid from the gallbladder can get caught in the bile duct and harden, causing stone-like material to form. These stones are made of cholesterol and salts, and can block the flow of bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine. If this occurs, it can result in swelling and inflammation, often referred to as a gallbladder attack because it produces noticeable pain in the area of the gallbladder.
Gallbladder Pain and Shoulder Pain
According to the NIH, when gallstones develop they can lead to inflammation of the gallbladder, liver and pancreas. When these organs develop inflammation they can produce pressure on a variety of nerves. One nerve, the right phrenic nerve travels upward towards the shoulder and upper back, and when pressure is applied to this nerve, it produces pain in the right shoulder. This is why many medical resources note that right shoulder pain one of the primary symptoms of a gallbladder attack.
Diagnosis of Gallbladder Pain
Sources at the NIH note that there are a variety of medical tests that can be used to diagnose gallstones or gallbladder disease. The primary method is ultrasound imaging, which can be used to produce a picture of the inside of the gallbladder, helping doctors to identify any inflammation or trapped materials such as gallstones. Other tests include computerised tomography exam (CT) and blood tests, both of which can help doctors identify infections, inflammation or blockages near the gallbladder.
Treatments for Gallbladder Pain
Treatments for gallbladder pain and gallstones include laparoscopic surgery to remove the gallbladder and use of prescription medications that help to dissolve any gallstones that are blocking the bile duct. While the removal of the gallbladder is a common procedure, the NIH notes that patients should consult with a qualified physician to discuss all of the treatment options for gallbladder pain that radiates to the shoulder.