Signs & symptoms of non-functioning gallbladder

Updated February 21, 2017

The gallbladder is a small, sack-like organ located beneath the liver. It is responsible for storing bile secreted from the liver (before it make its way to the intestines), but you do not need a gall bladder to live. A number of conditions, such as cancer and gallstones, can be possible causes of a non-functioning gall bladder.

No Symptoms

Gall bladder problems can be difficult to detect. According to the Mayo Clinic, both gallstones and gallbladder cancers can cause damage without producing any outward or detectable symptoms. This is largely due to the fact that the gall bladder is hidden behind the liver, which makes it difficult for doctors to discover irregularities associated with it.

Upper Body Pain

Perhaps the most common symptom caused by a non-functioning gall bladder is upper body pain, which is referred to medically as biliary colic. The pain is usually oriented toward the right side of the body--according to the Mayo Clinic--and typically affects the upper shoulder, abdomen, back and spine. If the pain is so intense that you can find no possible way to be comfortable (try standing, sitting and lying down), then you should seek medical attention. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, biliary colic typically occurs during the nighttime and can be triggered by the eating of fatty foods.


A non-functioning gall bladder may also cause jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and/or whites of the eyes. This condition is caused by an obstruction of the bile duct, which--according to the Mayo Clinic--can occur with the formation of particularly large gallstones, as well as with the formation of cancerous tumours.

Digestive Problems

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, gall bladder malfunctions can also produce a variety of digestive problems, the most severe being chronic diarrhoea (usually defined as having between four to 10 bowel movements per day, for at least three months). You might also feel bloated or like you constantly have gas. If these feeling do not dissipate, even after passing gas or taking a pain/gas reliever, it is possible you have a gall bladder issue.

Other Symptoms

A non-functioning gall bladder might also cause you to feel feverish and/or nauseous. A sudden drop in blood pressure and/or rapid increase in heart rate are other possible indications. However--in the case of a gall bladder issue--these symptoms will likely occur along with some of the other above-mentioned symptoms. Otherwise, they are likely indicative of some other underlying disease or condition.

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About the Author

Erik Devaney is a writing professional specializing in health and science topics. His work has been featured on various websites. Devaney attended McGill University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in humanistic studies.