Also known as: Cholecystitis - acute
- Serious illnesses, such as HIV or diabetes
- Tumors of the gallbladder (rare)
- Being female
- Hormone therapy
- Older age
- Being Native American or Hispanic
- Losing or gaining weight rapidly
- Sharp, cramping, or dull pain
- Steady pain
- Pain that spreads to your back or below your right shoulder blade
- Clay-colored stools
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Antibiotics you take at home to fight infection
- Low-fat diet (if you are able to eat)
- Pain medicines
- Gangrene (tissue death)
- Perforation (a hole that forms in the wall of the gallbladder)
- Pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas)
- Persistent bile duct blockage
- Inflammation of the common bile duct
- Severe belly pain does not go away
- Symptoms of cholecystitis return
Acute cholecystitis is sudden swelling and irritation of the gallbladder. It causes severe belly pain.
The gallbladder is an organ that sits below the liver. It stores bile, which your body uses to digest fats in the small intestine.
Acute cholecystitis occurs when bile becomes trapped in the gallbladder. This often happens because a gallstone blocks the cystic duct, the tube through which bile travels into and out of the gallbladder. When a stone blocks this duct, bile builds up, causing irritation and pressure in the gallbladder. This can lead to swelling and infection.
Other causes include:
Some people are more at risk for gallstones. Risk factors include:
Sometimes the bile duct becomes blocked temporarily. When this occurs repeatedly, it can lead to chronic cholecystitis. This is swelling and irritation that continues over time. Eventually, the gallbladder becomes thick and hard. It does not store and release bile as well as it did.
The main symptom is pain in the upper right side or upper middle of your belly that usually lasts at least 30 minutes. You may feel:
Other symptoms that may occur include:
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. During the physical exam, you will likely have pain when the provider touches your belly.
Your provider may order the following blood tests:
Imaging tests can show gallstones or inflammation. You may have one of these tests:
If you have severe belly pain, seek medical attention right away.
In the emergency room, you'll be given fluids through a vein. You also may be given antibiotics to fight infection.
Cholecystitis may clear up on its own. However, if you have gallstones, you will probably need surgery to remove your gallbladder.
Nonsurgical treatment includes:
You may need emergency surgery if you have complications such as:
If you are very ill, a tube may be placed through your belly into your gallbladder to drain it. Once you feel better, you may have surgery.
Most people who have surgery to remove their gallbladder recover completely.
Untreated, cholecystitis may lead to any of the following health problems:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
Removing the gallbladder and gallstones will prevent further attacks.
Glasgow RE, Mulvihill SJ. Treatment of gallstone disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease:Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 66.
Jackson P, Evans S. Biliary system. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap. 55.
Wang DQH, Afdhal NH. Gallstone disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease:Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 65.
- Review date:
- December 7, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Subodh K. Lal, MD, Gastroenterologist at Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.