The gallbladder might be a small organ, but it is capable of causing significant distress when not functioning properly. The most common culprit of gallbladder discomfort is gallstones, which can impede the flow of bile through the cystic duct. When this occurs, the gallbladder becomes inflamed, causing cholecystitis, a condition which often leads to a painful gallbladder attack. Let's review the most common types of gallbladder inflammation and associated symptoms.
The sudden onset of gallbladder pain is called acute cholecystitis. Gallstones are present in 95 per cent of cases. Sufferers typically experience excruciating pain in the upper abdominal quadrant, and the discomfort does not subside--another clue that this is a gallbladder problem. In some instances, infection follows as fluid fills the organ and causes a thickening of its walls.
Occasionally, acute cholecystitis occurs in people who don't have gallstones. This is a more serious kind of gallbladder problem, and is seen following major physical trauma caused by surgery, serious illness, prolonged feedings through an I.V., and extended fasting. People with compromised immune systems likewise can fall victim to this condition.
Chronic cholecystitis is characterised by an ongoing inflammation of the gallbladder caused by gallstones or "sludge" (minuscule particles of gallstones). People with this condition will experience regular episodes of gallbladder pain, called biliary colic. Left untreated, the gallbladder can eventually develop scar tissue, shrinking in size as it repeatedly fills with bile that becomes blocked and thickens the organ's walls.
Gallbladder Attack and Pain
Pain is the single-most common symptom of a gallbladder attack, no matter if your cholecystitis is acute or chronic. A defining characteristic is gallbladder pain that lasts for hours and grows in severity as time goes on. Attacks can last up to 12 hours, with pain reaching its peak about 1 hour after onset. The pain will be felt in the upper abdominal quadrant, which is usually quite tender if touched. Deep breathing will aggravate the pain.
Other Symptoms of a Gallbladder Attack
Muscle rigidity can develop in the affected area. Fever accompanied by chills might be present, as well, particularly in those experiencing acute gallbladder inflammation.
Elderly people sometimes experience an attack differently, with symptoms that are rather vague. These can range from general malaise to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and fatigue.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Pain from inflammation of the gallbladder is usually enough to convince most people to phone their physicians. If symptoms last more than a day and you suspect gallbladder problems, you should make a doctor appointment.
Seek emergency medical care if pain is sudden and severe as this could indicate a potential rupture of the gallbladder.
Should a high fever be present, call your physician right away as this could likewise signal dangerous complications. Any signs of jaundice, such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, should be investigated right away, as well.
Hospitalisation combined with dietary restrictions, antibiotics and pain medication are some of the treatments your physician might prescribe if your gallbladder is inflamed. I.V. fluids might be given, as well, and the stomach could be suctioned to keep it free of excess fluid build-up.
In acute cases, the doctor might recommend removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). This is usually accomplished laparoscopically, requiring small incisions and a recovery time of several days. The digestive system will still be able to function normally without the gallbladder.