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gallbladder disease

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Gallbladder and liver

Inflamed gallbladder

Alternative Names
inflammation of the gallbladder

Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder.

What is going on in the body?
The job of the gallbladder is to store and secrete bile. Bile, which is produced by the liver, is a fluid that aids in digestion. When a person eats, bile flows through a series of tubes or ducts into the intestines. It helps to break up food so that it can be used by the body. The gallbladder may get inflamed from various conditions. When this happens, it may not function properly and symptoms may occur.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
This condition may cause:
  • abdominal pain, often in the upper right or middle part of the abdomen. The pain may travel through to the back or up into the shoulder area.
  • fever.
  • nausea and vomiting.
  • tenderness when the upper right part of the abdomen is pressed by the doctor.
  • jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin, occurs rarely.
People with this condition often have a history of previous attacks of similar but milder symptoms. These older attacks are often described as pain that occurred shortly after a heavy or fatty meal.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
This condition has different causes, including:
  • gallstones, which can block the tubes that connect the gallbladder to the intestine. This is the most common cause of cholecystitis.
  • infections of the gallbladder.
  • serious or prolonged illness, such as recovery from a major operation or severe skin burns.
  • circulation problems to the gallbladder, such as from a blood clot that blocks blood flow.
  • cancer or a tumour.
  • other conditions that cause inflammation, such as the immune system attacking the gallbladder for unknown reasons.
The main risk of this condition is that the inflammation may lead to a serious infection and possibly even death.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
This condition can usually not be prevented.

How is the condition diagnosed?
The diagnosis is often suspected after the history and clinical examination. Blood tests are often done to help make the diagnosis and rule out other causes for symptoms. Special x-ray tests are generally done to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
If untreated, the inflammation may get worse. This can cause scarring of the gallbladder, infection, and even death in some cases. Some researchers have reported a link between gallbladder cancer and chronic or long-standing cholecystitis and gall stones.

If this condition is treated with gallbladder removal, there are rarely any long-term effects.

What are the risks to others?
This condition is not contagious and poses no risk to other people.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Removal of the gallbladder with surgery is the preferred treatment for this condition. 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 open operation, which leaves a larger scar. Treating gallstones without surgery is rarely done for those who cannot tolerate an operation. This may involve dissolving diets, medications to reduce inflammation, and special sound waves to break up gallstones but these methods are largely experimental.

Antibiotics may be needed if an infection is present.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
All surgery carries a risk of bleeding, infection, and reactions to the anaesthetic drugs. Some people may notice more frequent bowel movements for a short time after surgery. Any medications used may cause side effects. These may include allergic reactions, stomach upset, or other side effects. Specific side effects depend on the drugs used.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
If the gallbladder is removed, the person is generally "cured." Most people can return to normal activities after recovery.

How is the condition monitored?
Symptoms and the physical examination can be followed for monitoring. If the gallbladder is removed, no further monitoring is needed after recovery unless further symptoms e.g. pain, jaundice develop.

Author: Michael Peetz, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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