Cholecystitis

Cholecystitis is a swelling and irritation of your gallbladder, a small organ in the right side of your belly near your liver.

The gallbladder’s job is to hold a digestive juice called bile. It releases bile into your small intestine when your body needs it to break down fats. But if the path to your small intestine is blocked, bile gets trapped. That backup can irritate your gallbladder. That’s how cholecystitis happens.

Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms. They often show up after you’ve eaten a big or especially fatty meal.

It’s easy to mistake it for other health problems, but another telltale sign is intense pain – in your belly, in your back or under your right shoulder blade.

If you don’t see a doctor and get treatment, it can lead to dangerous infections or become a long-term condition. The most common solution is surgery to remove your gallbladder.


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Cholecystitis is usually caused by gallstones (called cholelithia-sis) but it can also be related to problems with bile being made or stored in the gallbladder. This other type is called acalculous, meaning without calculi (stones). Other causes are sickle cell disease, infections, and diabetes. The acalculous type is found more often in older men, very sick people, or bedridden elderly people.

Risk factors for cholecystitis are like those for gallstones. They include age, female sex, certain ethnic groups (such as Native Americans), obesity, fasting, high-fat diet, losing and gaining weight excessively, drugs, and pregnancy.

The common signs and symptoms of cholecystitis are pain and cramping in the upper right side of the abdomen. It can affect other body parts. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain in the chest, upper back or right shoulder. Pain when breathing in or moving or when pressure is on the area.
  • Belching, nausea, and vomiting, usually after eating high-fat foods.
  • Low temperature.
  • Yellow skin.
  • Whites of the eyes.
  • Pale stools (bowel movements).
  • Itchy skin may occur if the main duct bringing bile to the intestines is blocked by a stone.
  • An infected gallbladder may cause high temperature and chills.

There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

The doctor makes a diagnosis from a medical history and physical examination. X-rays, blood tests, and ultrasonography will confirm it. When ultrasonography shows unclear results, the doctor uses a special x-ray test (HIDA scan).

For treatment, the gallbladder and gallstones are removed by surgery (cholecystectomy). Laparoscopic removal is the usual method. It allows shorter recovery and can be an outpatient surgery. For laparoscopic removal, the surgeon makes four tiny cuts in the abdomen. The surgeon uses instruments through these cuts to remove the gallbladder.

If laparoscopic surgery cannot be used, standard surgery is done, which will require a prolonged hospital stay. Removing the gallbladder doesn’t affect normal living, except for occasional indigestion when eating fatty foods for 6 to 12 months after gallbladder removal. This problem usually goes away.

Drugs can also be used to dissolve stones, but medicines can take months or years to work and are only rarely used.

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cholecystitis:

  • Tell your doctor if you have pain that you think may be caused by gallstones.
  • Call your doctor right away if you get a fever with abdominal pain.
  • Maintain a normal weight.
  • Avoid high-fat meals.
  • Don’t fast for long periods or go on crash diets.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

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