Gallbladder and Pain from Gallstones
The gallbladder is a storage center for bile which is used in the digestion of fats. When the function of the gallbladder is disrupted, abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, belching, and irregular bowel movements can occur.
The most common cause of gallbladder problems is development of gallstones which can block the exit of the bile from the gallbladder and result in pain after a fatty meal.
Gallstones are best diagnosed with an abdominal ultrasound. When a patient has symptoms and gallstones, surgery to remove the gallbladder can be considered.
If you would like to know more about the details of this process, how the gallbladder works, and what causes symptoms, please check out these FAQ’s.
Gallbladder Disease without Gallstones
Gallbladder pain and related symptoms can occur without gallstones if the gallbladder is dysfunctioning. This is called biliary dyskinesia and occurs when the gallbladder is given the signal to squeeze to express bile for digestion of fats but does not squeeze properly. This can result in the same symptoms people experience with gallstones.
To diagnose biliary dyskinesia, patients first need an ultrasound to check for gallstones and when stones are not present, a Hepatobiliary Iminodiacetic Acid (“HIDA”) scan. This looks at the function of the gallbladder when it is given the signal to squeeze.
If biliary dyskinesia is suspected, evaluation by a surgeon is recommended.
In addition to causing intermittent pain and gastrointestinal symptoms, gallstones can also cause other problems when they get lodged in various places in the gallbladder and ducts.
When gallstones block the exit of the gallbladder, the gallbladder can become inflamed and infected. This is called cholecystitis. This can happen suddenly and result in constant severe pain that is not resolving. In this case, patients usually present to the emergency room and undergo surgery to remove the gallbladder within a couple days.
Stones can also block the drainage of the liver and/or pancreas as they travel through ducts from the gallbladder to the intestines. Similarly, this can result in inflammation of these organs and more severe illness. Patients typically develop severe, unrelenting pain and present to the emergency room where tests are performed to confirm the diagnosis.