Gallstones, or cholelithiasis, are hard deposits which form in the gallbladder. Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. Gallstone pain can be dull or excruciating. The pain from an acute gallstone attack can mimic a heart attack. Pain is often felt in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen which radiates to the back, with occasional nausea and vomiting. This pain usually happens minutes after a meal. You need to seek treatment for your gallbladder pain, because neglecting it can result in serious bile duct blockage or infection. There are steps you can take to relieve gallbladder pain.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Physical examination
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Prescription medication
- Gallstone-dissolving medication
- Surgical procedure
Get a physical examination. Your doctor will need to evaluate your symptoms by examining your abdomen to check for signs of rigidity, location of pain and organ inflammation. Your doctor might recommend further testing, such as medical imaging of your gallbladder. Your treatment will depend on the findings of your medical evaluation.
Take an anti-inflammatory medication. Such over-the-counter products are effective for relieving gallstone pain and accompanying back pain. Do not take anti-inflammatory medication if you are taking medications to thin your blood---these can intensify the blood-thinning properties of your medication. Always check with your doctor first.
Ask about prescription analgesics. If your pain is severe, ask your doctor to prescribe a pain reliever. Prescription analgesics are frequently opioid based and can dramatically reduce gallstone pain. These medications cause side effects such as drowsiness, confusion and constipation. Take prescription medications only when needed and do not drive when taking them.
Inquire about gallstone-dissolving medication. If you are a poor surgical risk, or if you decide that surgery is not an option for you, ask your doctor about medication that dissolves gallstones. As your gallstones begin to dissolve, your pain will be relieved. Dissolving gallstones with these medications might take more than two years to work, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Consider surgery. In acute cases of gallstones, surgery might be indicated. If left untreated, or if surgery is delayed, inflammation of the gallbladder or resulting infection can prove life-threatening. Your doctor will refer you to a surgeon who will discuss surgical options and post-operative instructions with you. Your doctor will offer a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which uses small incisions and usually requires an overnight hospital stay at most.
Tips and warnings
- Eat a low-fat diet. Gallbladder disease worsens with a high-fat diet. Fat in the diet causes the gallbladder to contract over the stones, causing irritation and pain. Ask your doctor to recommend a healthy low-fat diet plan.
- If your gallstone pain is accompanied by fever, severe pain or vomiting, call your health care provider immediately. You might have a severe infection that will require prompt medical evaluation and treatment.
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