Where is the Gallbladder Located? Function and Problems

Where is the Gallbladder Located? Your gallbladder is a 4-inch long small, pear-shaped organ that sits on the upper right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver. The gallbladder stores a greenish digestive fluid called bile that’s released into your small intestine. Bile is a greenish-yellow fluid that flows to your small intestine and helps you digest fat and absorb fat-soluble nutrients and vitamins.

In a healthy gallbladder, all these processes happen painlessly. However, when there’s a gallstone or any other problem with your gallbladder, it can cause severe pain and discomfort. Usually, most people don’t notice their gallbladder until there’s a problem. The reason is, gallbladder problems can cause excruciating pain and may require immediate action.

Where is the Gallbladder Located
Where is the Gallbladder Located

Where is the Pain Located?

When you have a gallbladder complication, the symptoms usually include pain at the upper right side of your belly may hurt.

Other symptoms of gallbladder problems include:

  • Pain in your back or chest, especially when you take deep breaths.
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Itchy
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice),
  • Weight Loss
  • Color changes in your pee or poop.

Common Causes of Pain-Related with the Gallbladder

  1. Gallstones

Gallstones in your bladder are one of the primary causes of gallbladder pain. These gallstones form when bile clumps up into hard particles and block bile from flowing out.

Gallstones can either as small as a speck or as large as a golf ball. If your gallstone becomes big enough to block your bile duct, you may experience intense pain in your gallbladder.

Usually, gallstones form gradually. One person may form multiple small gallstones, a large stone, or a mix of the two. Many people may have gallstones without any painful symptoms, especially if the stones are small and do not affect digestion. If your gallbladder pain results from gallstones, you can soothe the pain by removing the gallstone responsible for blocking the bile duct.

In some extreme cases, gallstones can cause serious medical complications. For example, the gallbladder, pancreas, and bile duct can become inflamed and infected, which can cause serious health problems. Sometimes, your gallstones can cause your gallbladder to rupture and can also block your bowel.

Treatment for gallstones

If your gallstones don’t show any symptoms, you may not require treatment. However, to treat the gallbladder pain caused by gallstones, your doctor may recommend certain medications that dissolve the gallstones. In extreme cases, you may require surgery to remove the gallbladder.

  1. Biliary Sludge

When bile stays in your gallbladder for too long, it may form biliary sludge. Biliary sludge is a mixture of calcium, cholesterol, bilirubin, and other compounds accumulated in the gallbladder.

The biliary sludge can prevent the bile from leaving the gallbladder and cause similar symptoms with gallstones. The symptoms can include abdominal pain, vomiting, and fatty stools. Although biliary sludge is not a medical condition, it can increase the risk of other conditions like acute pancreatitis and gallstones.

The major causes of biliary sludge include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Stomach surgeries
  • Organ failure
  • Organ transplants
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Pregnancy
  • Other gallbladder problems

Treatment for Biliary Sludge

Although biliary sludge can be painful, it usually resolves on its own. If the pain is intense, your doctor may recommend medications. You may also require some lifestyle change like reducing excess alcohol or eating a low-fat diet. In extreme cases, your doctor may suggest surgery.

  1. Cholecystitis

Cholecystitis is a medical condition in which the gallbladder becomes inflamed.

Usually, cholecystitis may develop due to gallstones that block the bile duct (called acute cholecystitis). In some rare cases, cholecystitis may develop without any previous gallstones (called acalculous cholecystitis).

Acute Cholecystitis

Acute cholecystitis occurs when a gallstone obstructs the gallbladder and leads to inflammation. Your gallbladder inflammation can cause severe right upper abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, nausea, and appetite loss.

Acalculous Cholecystitis

Although acalculous cholecystitis is less common, it shares similar symptoms as acute cholecystitis. The exact cause of acalculous cholecystitis is unknown, but your gallbladder becomes inflamed without the presence of a gallstone.

In most cases, the condition could arise due to poor bile and blood flow within the gallbladder. Acalculous cholecystitis typically occurs in critically ill individuals, like those on mechanical ventilation or people with significant infection or recovering from major surgery.

Treatment for Cholecystitis

To treat cholecystitis, your doctor will need to diagnose and eliminate the cause. Your doctor may recommend antibiotics and pain relievers to soothe the pain.

In extreme cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove your gallbladder. If your cholecystitis is left untreated, it can pave the way for serious medical complications such as infection and the gallbladder’s rupture.

  1. Acute Cholangitis

Acute cholangitis is a severe infection of the liver’s bile duct. This infection usually develops due to an obstructing gallstone, which causes intense abdominal pain in the right upper quadrant.

Acute cholangitis may have accompanying symptoms that include:

  • Right-sided abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Back pain
  • Chills
  • Jaundice
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

In more severe cases, individuals with cholangitis may also experience low blood pressure and confusion.

Treatment for Acute Cholangitis

Early treatment is essential for acute cholangitis. Your doctor may prescribe medication such as penicillin, ceftriaxone, metronidazole, and ciprofloxacin. In severe cases, you may need surgery or a liver transplant.

  1. Gallbladder Rupture

In some cases, the wall of your gallbladder can burst open and rupture. Most gallbladder ruptures are caused by gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis).

Gallstones or an infection may cause inflammation in your gallbladder that will lead to the rupture. Other factors that can cause injury and rupture of the gallbladder include:

  • A severe injury like a car accident
  • Fall with impact to the abdomen
  • An extreme contact sport that causes a blow to the abdomen
  • Gallbladder rupture can cause sharp or sudden pain in the right quadrant of your abdomen.

Other symptoms of gallbladder rupture include fever, jaundice, vomiting, and nausea.

Treatment for gallbladder rupture

Gallbladder ruptures can be life-threatening, especially if it is not treated early. If your gallbladder ruptures, it could lead to one or more organs (sepsis).

After your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove your gallbladder. After the surgery, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection.

Gallbladder Stones
Gallbladder Stones
  1. Biliary Dyskinesia

Biliary dyskinesia is a functional disorder in which the sphincter of Oddi (a muscular valve that controls the flow of bile) doesn’t work correctly. There is an abnormal movement of the gallbladder, usually because the sphincter of Oddi isn’t contracting properly.

Due to the gallbladder’s malfunction, gallbladder pain and other symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and nausea may arise.

Treatment of Biliary Dyskinesia

Biliary Dyskinesia is one of the primary causes of gallbladder removal. If the pain is persistent, your doctor will prescribe pain relievers to soothe the pain.

  1. Functional Gallbladder Disease

Gallbladder disorder is a condition that arises when your gallbladder has a motility disorder that affects your gallbladder’s ability to release bile properly.

This condition is sometimes referred to as chronic acalculous gallbladder dysfunction because it happens without any gallstones or sphincter of Oddi dysfunction.

Functional gallbladder disease has similar symptoms to gallstone disease, including pain in the upper abdomen, pain in the back, nausea, and vomiting.

Treatment for Functional gallbladder disease

To treat your gallbladder dysfunction, your doctor may suggest specific diet changes. In severe cases, you may require surgery to remove your gallbladder (cholecystectomy)

  1. Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer is sporadic. Usually, they can be difficult to treat because it is often diagnosed at the late stages. The most common symptom is gallbladder pain.

Other accompanying symptoms include jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. Gallstones are a major cause of gallbladder cancer. In rare cases, cancer in the gallbladder may spread to the liver, lymph nodes, and any surrounding organs.

Treatment for Gallbladder Cancer

Surgery may be necessary to treat gallbladder cancer. The cholecystectomy may remove the gallbladder and the surrounding cancerous tissues. Your doctor may also suggest radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy.

  1. Gallbladder polyps

Gallbladder polyps are small lesions or growths that develop inside the walls of the gallbladder. They’re usually small and don’t show any symptoms. However, in some cases, polyps can cause gallbladder pain, nausea, and vomiting. If your polyps grow larger than 1 centimeter, it may be cancer.

Treatment for Gallbladder polyps

For polyps larger than half an inch, your doctor may recommend gallbladder surgery.

  1. Gangrene of the gallbladder

Gangrene of the gallbladder can occur when your gallbladder is not getting adequate blood flow. It is usually a severe complication of acute cholecystitis. Males, people with diabetes, people older than 45 years are more prone to gallbladder gangrene.

The symptoms of gallbladder gangrene may include:

  • Dull pain in the gallbladder region
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  1. Abscess of the gallbladder

The gallbladder can develop an abscess when it becomes inflamed with pus.

Pus is the collection of dead tissue, white blood cells, and bacteria—the pus forms when a gallstone blocks the gallbladder completely, allowing the gallbladder to fill with pus.

Symptoms of gallbladder abscess may include pain in the upper right abdomen, along with fever and vomiting. Gallbladder abscesses are more common in individuals with diabetes and heart disease.

When to See a Doctor for your gallbladder pain

Gallbladder pain can be excruciating. If you notice any signs of gallbladder pain, Make sure you see your doctor immediately, even if the symptoms are not recurring.

Your doctor will undergo a diagnosis and will check to see if the pain is not a symptom of a life-threatening condition. You should get immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe, intense pain that prevents you from getting comfortable
  • Pain that lasts for more than five hours
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Pain that increases when you take a breath
  • Yellow skin or yellow around the whites of your eyes (called jaundice)
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dark or tea-colored urine
  • Light-colored stools

Diagnosis of gallbladder pain

Getting to the root of your gallbladder pain will require a medical history, physical exam, blood tests, and imaging tests.

Your doctor will focus on your upper abdomen during your physical exam, where your gallbladder is located. The doctor will examine the area for swelling, skin changes, tenderness, and guarding (tensing of the abdominal wall).

During this physical test, your doctor will have you take a deep breath while he gently presses on your gallbladder to see if any pain is elicited. If you feel pain, this may signal an inflamed gallbladder.

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