What are the symptoms of gallbladder disease?

Most people who have gallbladder problems notice pain in the upper portion of their stomach on the right side. Some people even have pain that wraps around to the back or the right shoulder area. Feeling bloated after eating and having nausea and diarrhea are also common.
The main symptom of chronic (long-term) gallbladder disease is pain in the upper right part of your belly. Pain from gallstones is called biliary colic.

The pain may:
  • Feel dull, achy and steady
  • Be moderately severe
  • Move to the back
  • Last one to four hours,
  • Start after a meal, especially one high in fat
You might throw up (vomit) or feel sick in your stomach (nauseous) when the pain strikes. Most people are well in between attacks. Some people with gallstones don't have any pain. 

Other symptoms of gallbladder disease are:
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion (dyspepsia)
  • Gas (flatulence)
It's important to remember these above symptoms are vague and can be signs of other health conditions.

If your gallstones are causing pain and other symptoms, you will need to have your gallbladder removed, unless you have other health conditions that make surgery impossible.  If you don't have any symptoms, you don't need gallbladder surgery. 
A classic symptom of gallbladder disease is stomach discomfort. In this video, Gopal Grandhinge, MD, of Brandon Regional Hospital lists some other symptoms, both classic and atypical, of gallbladder disease.
Symptoms of gallbladder disease may vary depending on the cause of the condition. In normal digestion, your liver releases a digestive fluid called bile into your gallbladder, where the bile is concentrated and stored. Then, when you eat a meal, your gallbladder squeezes just the right amount of bile into your intestine to help in the digestion of that food.

Most gallbladder disease is caused by one of two problems: acalculous disease, in which the squeezing function of your gallbladder is not working correctly (causing too little bile released into your intestine), or calculous disease, in which gallstones form in your gallbladder, causing blockages, inflammation and possibly other problems.

Acalculous disease typically causes bloating, cramping and diarrhea because you're not digesting the fat in your food properly. Symptoms of calculous (gallstone-forming) disease can include sharp pain under the right ribcage, often shortly after you eat a meal. Initially, symptoms of gallbladder disease may be mistaken for indigestion. Your doctor may do tests, including an ultrasound, to diagnose your gallbladder problem.
Symptoms include pain on the right side of the abdomen (or back) beginning some time after a meal. You may also feel bloated and intolerant of fatty foods. Some patients develop gallstones, which are little stones in the gallbladder that can block the gallbladder, leading to infection, pain and inflammation. 
Here are four types of gallbladder disease:  
  • Biliary colic: gallstone pain.
  • Acute colic:  gallstones, with infection.
  • Biliary dyspepsia: severe gallbladder pain without stones. (There may be, however, polyps.)
  • Acalculous cholecystitis: infection without gallstones.
  • Cancer: in rare cases.

Primary symptoms that patients complain about include 15-20 minutes of pain on the right side of the abdomen. Others will experience mid-back pain and pain in the right shoulder. Less obvious, but more common, symptoms include indigestion, fullness, bloating and gas after meals. A lot of patients will come in and say, “You know, I feel like I ate 10 minutes ago, but it was three hours ago. I feel my digestion is very slow.” Typically, the complaints are very general and may be related to other processes or gastritis. But when patients start complaining about pain on the right side, that’s a clear sign.

Symptoms may include:

  • intense, sudden pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • indigestion or pain after meals that lasts a few hours
  • intolerance of fatty foods
  • pain upon taking deep breaths that moves to right shoulder blade
  • nausea and vomiting
  • low fever
  • chills
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • abdominal bloating
  • loose, light-colored stool
  • rigid abdominal muscles on the right side

Continue Learning about Digestive Health

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.