Pain Patients: Learn about Gallbladder Disease

The Relation Between Gallbladder Disease and Pain

Most people don’t typically think about their gallbladder until it begins to act up. This diminutive, pear-shaped organ located underneath the liver in the upper right area of the abdomen produces a unique mixture of fluids, cholesterol and fats known as bile. Bile breaks down the fat that makes its way through the intestines, and the gallbladder’s job is to secrete bile into your small intestines so that vitamins and nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream more easily.

Any disease affecting the gall bladder is referred to as gall bladder disease. These include:


Cholecystitis is a painful inflammation of the gallbladder and it can either be long-term or short-term. A few inflammatory attacks of the gallbladder can lead to chronic inflammation and may eventually damage the organ, permanently impairing function.


Gallstones are hard deposits made from cholesterol and other components of bile. They may be present but go undetected for years, after which they may become infected and cause inflammation and pain.

Gallstones are usually a few millimeters long, but they can be as long as several centimeters in diameter. Some individuals have several gallstones, while others only develop one. As gallstones grow, they can block channels that lead away from the gallbladder. A pigment stone is another type of gallstone formed by a chemical produced by the body when it breaks down red blood cells.

Stones in the Common Bile Duct

Gallstones may occur in the common bile duct, the channel that connects the gallbladder to the small intestine. Bile must pass from the gallbladder through small tubes into the common bile duct before entering the small intestine. In many cases, a stone formed within the gallbladder travels and lodges inside the common bile duct; these are called secondary stones.

Occasionally, stones form inside the common bile duct itself, and these are known as primary stones. While rarer, these are more likely to cause infection.

Gallbladder Disease without Stones

In acalculous gallbladder disease, inflammation and other symptoms associated with gallbladder stones occur even in the absence of any gallstones.

Common Bile Duct Infection

If the common bile duct is blocked, an infection can develop. If the infection is discovered early it can be treated, but left undetected, it can spread and become fatal.

Abscess of the Gallbladder

Some individuals with gallstones can also develop pus in their gallbladders, referred to as empyema. The pus causes severe abdominal pain and can cause a serious systemic infection if left undetected and untreated.

Gallstone Ileus

Occasionally, gallstones may even travel all the way into the intestines where they can cause a blockage. This condition is most common in individuals over the age of 65.

Perforated Gallbladder

Gallstones may actually puncture the gallbladder if left undetected and untreated.

If the tear is not found and treated, it can develop into a dangerous abdominal infection.

Gallbladder Polyps

Polyps are benign, noncancerous growths. Small polyps on the gallbladders are usually harmless and may not need to be removed, but large polyps might need to be surgically removed if they are cancerous or otherwise cause problems.

Porcelain gallbladders

Over time, calcium deposits can stiffen the walls of the gallbladder and make them rigid. This is known as porcelain gallbladder and can lead to gallbladder cancer.

Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer is rare, but if detected early, there is a very good chance that it can be cured. However, if left undetected and untreated, it can metastasize to other areas of the body.

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