Gallbladder Disease

What is Gallbladder Disease?

Gallbladder disease” is an umbrella term for many different conditions that affect the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a little sac located underneath the liver. Its purpose is to store bile that aids in the digestion of fats. Many gallbladder diseases cause irritation and inflammation. Some common issues include cholestasis, sclerosing cholangitis, gallstones, and gallbladder cancer. While some issues, like tiny gallstones or polyps, may go away on their own, others may lead to necrosis or cancer.

The most prevalent disease of the gallbladder is cholecystitis, which can be either acute or chronic inflammation. Acute cholecystitis is often caused by biliary sludge getting trapped in the gallbladder or gallstones.

If a person doesn’t recover well from surgery or they’ve had trauma to their abdomen, they can also develop cholecystitis. If the gallbladder gets repeat infections, then the organ can actually shrink and be ineffective at releasing bile; this is known as chronic cholecystitis.

If a person experiences sclerosing cholangitis, he or she will have scarring and inflammation on the bile ducts. The cause of this scarring is unknown.

Gallstones are hard deposits of digestive fluids that can be as small as a speck of dust or as big as a golf ball. These stones usually form from cholesterol or from bilirubin. While doctors don’t know the exact cause of gallstones, they do know who is at risk.


  • Those who eat a high-cholesterol or fatty diet
  • Women””especially those who are pregnant
  • Seniors that are older than sixty
  • Those taking estrogen supplements
  • Diabetics
  • Those with a family history of gallbladder problems
  • Certain ethnic groups, like Native Americans

Gallbladder cancer is a fairly rare disease. However, if the cancer isn’t taken care of, it can spread from the gallbladder to other organs. Gallbladder can be caused by chronic gallbladder inflammation. Abnormalities between the gallbladder and the liver’s ducts can also increase the risk of this cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease?

Gallbladder cancer has similar symptoms to cholecystitis, so if a patient has chronic cholecystitis, he or she should also be on the lookout for cancer.

Symptoms include

The symptoms of cholecystitis include jaundicing, vomiting, fevers, nausea, and different colored bowel movements.

If a person experiences sclerosing cholangitis, he or she may experience weight loss or a decrease in their appetite.

If a person has gallstones, they may actually have no symptoms. A gallstone becomes a problem however if it lodges in a duct and creates a blockage. Symptoms of gallstones include chest pain, upper abdomin pain, shoulder pain, and upper mid-back pain. Other symptoms include jaundice, fever, chills, and the inability to sit comfortably.

Gallbladder Disease Causes

Gallbladder disease is caused when there is an inflammation of the gallbladder. Most often, the gallbladder disease is caused by one or more underlying problems. It can happen as a result of acalculous disease, where the squeezing function of the gallbladder fails to function correctly, causing too little bile to be released into the intestine. It can also occur as a result of the calculous disease, where gallstones form in the gallbladder, causing inflammation, blockages and other complications.

In rare cases, gallbladder disease can be caused by cancer of the gallbladder or blood circulation problems in and out of the gallbladder. Some gallbladder problems occur when the liver produces unusually thick bile.

Hormonal imbalance during pregnancy or during estrogen therapy can also cause gallbladder disease. Other known causes of gallbladder disease include obesity, gluten intolerance, hypothyroidism, excessive use of anabolic steroids, alcohol intake, some antidepressants and lack of exercise. Age and genes have also been linked to gallbladder disease.

How is Gallbladder Disease Treated?

Usually gallstones will pass through without a problem.

Treatment includes

If it gets stuck in a duct however, then oral medications may need to be taken to break down the stones. Shock-wave therapy can also be used to send ultrasonic waves to break up the stone. In more difficult cases, physicians may need to perform a cholecystectomy or laparoscopic surgery to take out the gallbladder.

For cholecystitis, patients will need to use antibiotics to make sure no infection or chronic cholecystitis occurs. If gallstones are causing the inflammation, oral medications that dissolve the stones may be taken. A doctor may also come up with dietary restrictions to help the inflammation go down and to help the bile in the digestive tract normalize. Analgesics may also be taken to reduce any pain.

For gallbladder cancer, many treatment routes can be taken. The gall bladder may need to be removed. A patient can also undergo radiation therapy, chemotherapy, wedge resection surgery, and palliative care.

Gallbladder Disease Prevention

While gallbladder surgery has grown in popularity in recent years as a gallbladder disease treatment method, it is important to understand that any type of surgery comes with its share of risks and side effects. You can prevent gallbladder disease surgery with proper diet. Eat high fiber, low fat foods to prevent excessive bile production. Avoid trans-fatty acids found in cookies, cakes, and French fries. In addition, avoid tobacco and alcohol.

Regular exercise can help improve your health and keep gallbladder disease and predisposing factors like obesity at bay. If your health allows, try to exercise at least five days per week to maintain a healthy body weight.

Talk to your doctor before taking hormonal therapy to discuss your risk of developing gallbladder disease as a result of hormonal therapy. Finally, stay hydrated at all times to prevent gallstones from forming.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 22, 2017