What causes gallbladder symptoms?

Gallbladder symptoms are caused by gallbladder-related diseases, disorders and conditions, the most common of which is gallstones. In most cases, gallstones are caused by excessive amounts of cholesterol in the bile that is stored in the gallbladder. The cholesterol hardens to form stone-like structures. The medical term for gallstones is cholelithiasis. Increased body weight and older age are associated with increased levels of cholesterol in the bile. Gallstones are more likely to occur in women, in people who are obese, and in older individuals.

In some cases, gallstones develop because the bile contains too much bilirubin, which is a waste product of the liver. Gallstones that develop from excess bilirubin are called pigment stones.

Other causes of gallbladder symptoms include:

  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), which can occur when a gallstone becomes trapped in the cystic duct. Acute cholecystitis causes sudden and severe inflammation of the gallbladder; whereas chronic cholecystitis causes gradual inflammation of the gallbladder.
  • Choledocholithiasis, which occurs when a gallstone passes out of the gallbladder and through the cystic duct but becomes trapped or stuck in the common bile duct
  • Gallbladder cancer

Questions for diagnosing the cause of gallbladder symptoms

To diagnose the underlying cause of gallbladder symptoms, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider in diagnosing the cause of gallbladder symptoms. Questions asked during your examination generally include:

  • When did the symptoms first appear?
  • Do you have pain? Where do you feel pain?
  • How long does it last and how often does it occur?
  • What foods or beverages did you consume just before the symptoms started?
  • What are all of the diseases and conditions in your medical and dental history?
  • What medications, supplements, and herbal drugs you are taking?

What are the potential complications of gallbladder symptoms?

Complications associated with gallbladder symptoms can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because gallbladder symptoms can be due to serious diseases that can progress quickly, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow the treatment plan you and your health care practitioner design specifically for you to lower your risk of potential complications including:


  1. Gallbladder Diseases. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/gallbladderdiseases.html.
  2. Gallstones. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gallstones/
  3. General Information About Gallbladder Cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/gallbladder/Patient.

What are the signs of gallbladder problems?

The gallbladder is an organ of the digestive system that is located in the upper right side of the abdomen under the liver. The gallbladder is a hollow, pear-shaped sac that concentrates and stores bile, which is a digestive substance produced by the liver.

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What other symptoms might occur with gallbladder symptoms?

The hallmark gallbladder symptom is abdominal pain or tenderness. This can occur in the upper central abdomen (also called the epigastric area), the upper right side of the abdomen, or the pain can radiate from the abdomen to the right shoulder or back. Abdominal pain caused by gallbladder conditions often occurs min... Read more about gallbladder symptomssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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