The gallbladder stores bile. Bile is a liquid produced in the liver that aids in digestion. When a person eats, bile flows through a series of ducts into the intestines. It helps to break up food so that it can be used by the body. When bile is supersaturated with cholesterol or bilirubin, it may form the crystals known as gallstones. These stones may block the flow of bile within the gallbladder, causing cholecystitis. Cholecystitis can also occur when the gallbladder is irritated by other diseases and conditions.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Cholecystitis may occur when the gallbladder is inflamed by one of the following:
an autoimmune disorder, in which the person’s immune system attacks the gallbladder for no known reason
cancer or a tumor
circulation problems to the gallbladder, such as from a blood clot that blocks blood flow
infections or other diseases of the gallbladder
gallstones, which are the most common cause
serious or prolonged illness, such as recovery from a major operation or severe skin burns
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
If gallstones become symptomatic, the person has cholecystitis. He or she may have the following symptoms:
a feeling of abdominal bloating and excessive gas
nausea and sometimes vomiting
pain that is usually in the upper right or middle part of the abdomen
radiation of the pain through to the back or into the shoulder
worsening of the pain after a heavy or fatty meal
If complications occur, the individual may develop further symptoms:
abnormally light colored stools
blockage of the bowels
jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin
severe, constant abdominal pain
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosis of cholecystitis starts with a medical history and physical exam. The healthcare provider may order tests, including:
abdominal CT scan
blood tests to determine causes or complications
special X-ray tests, using contrast agents
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Cholecystitis can usually not be prevented.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Complications of cholecystitis may include:
blockage of the ducts that carry bile to the intestines
pancreatitis, or infection of the pancreas
What are the risks to others?
Cholecystitis is not contagious and poses no risk to others.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the condition?
Removal of the gallbladder with surgery is the preferred treatment for cholecystitis. Surgery may be needed right away or delayed for several weeks in some cases. Since the early 1990s, this surgery has usually been done with laparoscopy. This procedure is a type of less invasive surgery that leaves smaller scars than regular surgery. Laparoscopy involves inserting a small viewing tube through the skin of the abdomen into the abdominal cavity. The viewing tube is equipped with tiny surgical tools that can be used to remove the gallbladder.
In severe cases, the procedure may need to be done with regular surgery, which leaves a larger scar. Treating gallstones without surgery is done rarely for those who cannot tolerate an operation. This may involve dissolving diets, medicines to reduce inflammation, and special sound waves to break up gallstones.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Surgery may cause bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia. Some people may notice more frequent bowel movements for a short time after surgery.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
Gallstones may recur after they are dissolved with medicines or destroyed with ultrasound. Surgery is usually more successful.
How is the condition monitored?
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.