Gallbladder disease

Alternative names
Biliary disease; Gallbladder attack; Biliary colic

Gall bladder disease includes inflammation, infection, stones, or obstruction of the gallbladder.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The gallbladder is a sac located under the liver. It stores and concentrates bile produced in the liver. Bile aids in the digestion of fats, and is released from the gallbladder into the upper small intestine (duodenum) in response to food (especially fats). Conditions which slow or obstruct the flow of bile out of the gallbladder result in gallbladder disease.

Types of gallbladder disease include:

  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)  
  • Cholelithiasis (gall stones)


  • Abdominal fullness or gas  
  • Abdominal pain that is:       o Severe       o Located on the right side (right upper quadrant) or in the upper middle of the abdomen (epigastric)       o Decreased over 12 to 18 hours in uncomplicated cases       o Recurrent or similar to pain in past       o Occuring after meals       o Worse during deep intake of breath       o Radiating to back or below the right shoulder blade       o Worse after eating or drinking fatty foods or fluids  
  • Fever  
  • Nausea and vomiting  
  • Heartburn  
  • Chills and shaking  
  • Chest pain under the breastbone

Signs and tests

Examination of the abdomen by touch (palpation) may reveal tenderness.

Tests that detect the presence of gallstones or inflammation include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound  
  • Abdominal CT scan  
  • Abdominal x-ray  
  • Gall bladder radionuclide scan  
  • A CBC shows infection by an elevated white blood cell count

This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:

  • Lipase  
  • Amylase  
  • Amylase, urine  
  • Chemistry panel (chem-20)

Treatment depends on the specific type of gallbladder disease.

Expectations (prognosis)

See the specific type of gallbladder disease.

See the specific type of gallbladder disease.

Calling your health care provider
Call your provider if you develop symptoms of gallbladder disease.


In most cases, prevention is not possible. Reducing intake of fatty foods and weight reduction may reduce symptoms in people with gallbladder disease. Use of the medicine ursodiol may shrink gallstones, but it is used only in special cases.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.

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