The gallbladder is located behind your ribcage on the right side by your liver. It’s small (about 3cm x 1cm) and has a duct known as the cystic duct that connects into the common bile duct with the liver. Stones can form and get trapped in those ducts causing a lot of pain and irritation leading to removal of the organ entirely. However the gallbladder is vitally important to fat digestion and the production of bile.
What are the symptoms of stones? Typically there is pain under the right rib cage and pain between the shoulder blades, light or clay colored stools, nausea, belching and gas. These symptoms can come on mildly and linger, or ramp up to a sharp painful sensation requiring an emergency situation.
What are the risks of gallbladder issues? Obesity, being on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, currently pregnant, genetics (if a family member had stones), diabetes, and poor diet (high carbohydrate/high fat). Women are much more likely to have stones than men.
How is it diagnosed? Taking the symptoms into consideration, your healthcare provider will probably send you for an ultrasound to visualize the stones. Additional, imaging includes a HIDA scan, CT scan, or MRI. Additionally, liver enzymes may be elevated during an acute flare.
What else could it be? It’s important to note that pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen or in between the shoulder blades could be other problems such as intestinal issues, heartburn, pancreatitis, kidney stones, stomach ulcers, appendicitis, heart attack, a pulled muscle, or spinal problems.
What can you do? If the stones aren’t trapped in the duct or it’s more like ‘sludge’ than an actual stone then it’s important you lower your carbohydrate intake, get off the estrogen in the birth control pill or hormone replacement therapy, slowly and healthily start losing weight, reduce fats in your diet, and start eating vegetables at every meal.
What should you do? If you suspect your gallbladder is giving you problems, make an appointment with your healthcare provider for blood work and possibly imaging. Don’t attempt to wait it out hoping the pain will eventually go away. It may put you in the emergency room.
1) Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease
2) ED Ultrasound Helpful but not Definitive in Diagnosing Gallstones
3) High Carb Intake in Pregnancy Linked to Gallbladder Disease
Reviewed July 22, 2011
by MIchele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle