The gallbladder is a small organ located beneath the liver that stores bile. Bile is made by the liver and aids in the digestion of fats. The most common disease affecting the gallbladder is gallstones. As the name suggests, these are small “rock-like” structures that tend to develop in overweight females in their 40s and 50s. Gallstones often block the gallbladder and account for 90 percent of the cases of inflammation, which is called cholecystitis.
Cholecystitis often presents with abdominal pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, which corresponds to the location of the gallbladder. The pain is often described as sharp and may be perceived in the shoulder and back as well. It is usually severe and may last for many hours. The abdominal pain worsens as the inflammation progresses.
Occasionally the pain may start in the upper mid-abdomen or even the upper left abdomen but almost always moves to the right upper abdomen at some point. The sensation of pain may come and go for several hours before becoming constant as the inflammation increases.
Nausea and Vomiting
In addition to abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting often occur in patients with cholecystitis. This may also be accompanied by a loss of appetite. The vomiting is not usually severe but may lead to mild dehydration.
As the inflammation worsens, the body attempts to counteract the effects. This produces a fever. The fever is low-grade (less than 100 degrees) and not appreciated in all cases. As the inflammation proceeds, infection of the gallbladder supervenes, and the body temperature rises. When this occurs, the patient appears very ill.
Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin) occurs in about 15 percent of patients. Some patients may also have the sensation of a mass in the right upper abdomen.
Cholesystitis may resolve on its own or with nonsurgical treatment. However, early removal of the gallbladder following an attack of acute cholecystitis is considered the most appropriate treatment to prevent recurrences.
About this Author
Gary Brown is a medical doctor who has been practicing medicine for the past five years. He has given written and oral presentations on various medical topics for the past three years, primarily on surgical topics. He currently writes articles for LIVESTRONG.