The gallbladder is an organ that stores and concentrates bile before releasing it into the small intestine. It is a pear-shaped organ that is located under the liver, but its position can vary slightly from person to person. It receives bile produced by the liver through the common hepatic duct and releases it into the duodenum through the common bile duct. The bile aids in the digestion of fats consumed through foods. The symptoms of a gallbladder attack most commonly occur due to gallstones which are formed by material that cannot dissolve such as bilirubin or cholesterol. Other causes of blockage occur due to tumors or other illnesses.
Once there is blockage, the accumulation of bile increases the pressure in the gallbladder leading to potential rupture. A gallbladder attack occurs in 1 to 4% of affected individuals annually. Complications of cholelithiasis (gallstones) include cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), cholangitis (infection of the bile duct), and more. Some of the risk factors are positive family history, use of birth control pills, pregnancy, diabetes, obesity, liver disease, and rapid weight loss. The diagnosis of gallstones can be confirmed through an ultrasound and treatment may be watchful observation or surgery.
Symptom #1: Abdominal Pain
Having a gallbladder attack can cause abdominal pain that is primarily located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. However, the pain can radiate to the rest of the abdomen and gradually become centralized.
Some patients have pain that radiates to the back and up to the shoulder blade. The pain usually comes in waves, waxing and waning throughout the episode. While gallstone attacks last approximately 15 minutes, many patients have reported that the pain can continue or linger for hours and even disrupt sleep.