Gallbladder Attack & Gallbladder Symptoms
Pain or pressure in your belly could be from a gallbladder attack. A gallbladder attack is also called a gallstone attack. If gallstones are affecting your gallbladder, you could experience pain in the upper right or middle of your abdomen.
The pain you feel from a gallbladder attack feels different from other stomach pain. It could be:
- sudden or sharp and last for minutes or hours.
- dull or cramping pain that gets worse in the upper right part of your abdomen.
- sharp pain in the middle of your abdomen, just below your breastbone.
- intense pain that makes it difficult to sit still.
- pain that doesn’t get worse or change when you move.
- tenderness of your abdominal area.
A gallbladder attack often happens after you have eaten a large meal. This is because your body makes more bile when you eat fatty foods. Your attack may also happen in the evening.
Other symptoms of a gallbladder attack include:
- yellowing skin and eyes,
- dark or tea-colored urine, and
- light or clay-colored bowel movements.
What Is the Gallbladder?
Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ. It is located in your upper right abdomen, below your liver. The main job of your gallbladder is to store bile (also called gall), made by your liver. Bile helps your body digest fats and vitamins.
Every time you eat, your gallbladder releases bile. The bile then flows down into your small intestine through tubes called ducts. If something blocks the gallbladder duct or the ducts coming from the liver, you may feel pain in the middle or right side of your belly.
Gallstones are the top causes of gallbladder pain.
What Are Gallstones or Gallbladder Stones?
Gallstones are hard particles that develop in the gallbladder. They can be as small as a grain of sand or the size of a golf ball. Your gallbladder can develop a single large gallstone, hundreds of tiny stones, or both small and large stones.
When these gallstones block the ducts of the gallbladder, they can cause a gallbladder attack (also called biliary colic).
Types of Gallstones
The two types of gallstones are cholesterol and pigment stones:
- Cholesterol stones are usually yellow-green in color. They are cholesterol that has gotten hard. Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that is a normal part of your bloodstream.
- Pigment stones are dark in color. They are made of bilirubin. Bilirubin comes from the breakdown of old red blood cells.
What Causes Gallstones?
Gallstones form when the bile in your bladder is imbalanced. Scientists don’t completely understand why this happens. Also, if your gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough, you may get gallstones.
Sometimes, gallstones don’t cause any symptoms and you may not even know you have them. Many people have gallstones and never know it. But, if a gallstone blocks one of your ducts, you may have gallbladder pain.
What do Gallstones Look Like?
Gallstones look like small yellow stones. They are not related to kidney stones, which pass through the ureters and can cause bladder or kidney problems. Gallstones pass into the intestine, which usually does not cause problems. Gallstones cause pain when they block the ducts that carry bile from the liver into the intestine.
Contact your health care provider or go to your local emergency room if your abdominal pain becomes unbearable.
Gallstones that do not cause symptoms do not need treatment. However, if you have a gallbladder attack or other symptoms, you should get treatment. Your primary care doctor can order tests that may show inflammation or an injury to the liver.
He or she may also send you for an ultrasound or a CAT scan. An ultrasound and CAT scan provide images of your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and gallstones (if you have them). They can show inflammation or blockage.
If a person has had one gallbladder attack, they will probably have more episodes.
The most common treatment for gallstones is surgery to remove the gallbladder. If you cannot have surgery, there are nonsurgical treatments that dissolve cholesterol gallstones. However, these treatments do not last as long and are not as good at surgery at permanently taking away your symptoms.
The gallbladder is not an essential organ, which means you can live normally without one. Once a doctor removes your gallbladder, bile from your liver will flow through the hepatic and common bile ducts. It will go directly into the duodenum (first part of your intestine), instead of being stored in the gallbladder.
Non-Surgical Treatment for Gallstones
A gastroenterologist or interventional radiologist may use lithotripsy (stone breakdown) to break apart the stones in the gallbladder. This makes them easier to pass. It can get rid of the gallstones that are already formed.
It will now, however, prevent your gallbladder from making more stones later. Most people who have this procedure go on to have gallbladder attacks later in life.
A medication called urosdiol can also be prescribed by your primary care doctor if you do not want to have surgery. This medication can help to prevent cholesterol stones from forming. It does not work as well as surgery, but some people do have lasting relief of their gallstone attacks with this medication.
An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a procedure used to remove gallstones that are stuck in the bile duct. This can sometimes be necessary in addition to removing the gallbladder if the stones cannot be removed during your surgery.
When to See a Doctor for Gallbladder Pain
A gallbladder attack is an emergency that you should get treatment for immediately. Don’t ignore pain and get help from a doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Intense pain
- Yellowing skin
- Yellowing of the whites of your eyes
If you experience these symptoms, contact your primary care doctor or go to your nearest emergency department for an evaluation. You will need bloodwork and an imaging scan (ultrasound or CAT scan) to confirm that your pain is caused by gallstones.
You can receive a referral to our surgeons from your primary care doctor. You can also call our office at 801-213-2084 for same-day appointments.