Gallbladder disease describes many conditions involving the gallbladder. Despite its small footprint, the gallbladder performs the essential tasks of storing bile made in the liver and delivering it to the small intestine to aid in digesting fats.

Gallbladder diseases irritate the organ’s walls causing inflammation. This problem is called cholecystitis and often happens because gallstones are blocking the ducts the open into the small intestines. Bile builds up, eventually leading to gangrene or necrosis, destruction of the tissue.

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Types of Gallbladder Disease

Here are examples of diseases involving the gallbladder.


This disease is the most common and typically presents as chronic or acute inflammation of the gallbladder walls.

Acute Cholecystitis

Gallstones are usually the cause of acute cholecystitis, but it may also occur as a result of other illnesses and tumors. Usually, you’ll feel pain in the upper middle or upper right side of the abdomen. Often, the pain appears immediately after eating and can range from dull aches to sharp pains radiating to the right shoulder. Other reasons that it occurs include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Chronic Cholecystitis

Eventually, the gallbladder shrinks and can no longer store bile or release it after many acute cholecystitis attacks. Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are symptoms and surgery is often required as treatment.


Substances in the blood (such as bilirubin) and in the bile (such as calcium, bile salts, or cholesterol) form gallstones or hard particles that block the ducts and passages of the gallbladder. These stones also form when the gallbladder cannot empty completely or as often as it needs to.

Risks Factors for Gallstones

  • Obesity
  • Being 60 years old and over
  • Diabetes
  • Having liver diseases or cirrhosis of the liver
  • Family history
  • Gender-in females this is more common
  • Taking any medicine that includes estrogen
  • Having any condition that affects how the body absorbs nutrients such as Crohn’s disease

Acalculous Gallbladder Disease

This disease involves inflammation without gallstones and is usually triggered by serious medical problems or major chronic illness. The symptoms are similar to those of acute cholecystitis, and some risk factors are:

  • Significant viral or bacterial ailments
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Major physical trauma
  • Severe burns
  • Receiving IV fluids (nutrition)
  • Infections in the bloodstream
  • Autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus
  • Heart surgery


When gallstones lodge in the bile ducts or neck of the organ, bile cannot exit. This condition is known as choledocholithiasis. The gallbladder may become distended or inflamed. Further complications arise when this issue prevents bile from moving from the liver into the small intestines. It can cause:

  • Jaundice
  • Clay-colored or pale stools
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intense middle abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Fever

Sclerosing Cholangitis

Constant damage and inflammation to the system of bile ducts in the gallbladder may form scar tissue within the gallbladder and surrounding areas. This issue is known as sclerosing cholangitis, and there is no established cause for this disease.

Many people that have sclerosing cholangitis have no symptoms, but if they occur, they are:

  • Discomfort in your upper abdomen
  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Jaundice

60-80 percent of people with this disease also suffer from ulcerative colitis. Sclerosing cholangitis also increases your risk of liver cancer. The only treatment is a liver transplant. Medication that assists in breaking down condensed bile and suppresses the immune system helps manage the symptoms of this condition.

Biliary Dyskinesia

This condition occurs when the gallbladder’s function in lower than a normally functioning one. It could be related to persistent gallbladder inflammation. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Pain in the upper abdomen after eating
  • Indigestion

Meals heavy in fat may trigger biliary dyskinesia. There are usually no stones associated with this disease.

The best way to diagnose this condition is by using a test called the HIDA scan. It measures the function of the gallbladder. If the gallbladder only disperses 35 to 40 percent of its bile or less, then usually biliary dyskinesia is present.

Gallbladder Polyps

These are growths or legions located inside the gallbladder. Typically, they produce no symptoms and are benign, but the gallbladder should be removed if any polyps are bigger than one centimeter. Larger polyps are more at risk of developing cancer.

Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer is rare, and there are different kinds. Cancers here are challenging because they usually are not diagnosed until the disease has progressed extensively. Gallstones make a person more at risk for cancer located here.

Cancer spreads from the inner layers of the gallbladder’s walls to the outside layers. After that, it advances to the lymph nodes, liver, and other organs in the body. Usually, there are no symptoms of gallbladder cancer, but if there are, they are like those associated with acute cholecystitis.

Gallbladder Abscess

This happens when the gallbladder develops inflammation with pus. The pus is made up of accumulated white blood cells, bacteria, and dead tissue. Symptoms are fever, shaking chills, and pain in the upper right of the abdomen.

This problem may occur when a gallstone completely blocks the gallbladder during an acute cholecystitis episode, and it allows pus to fill the organ. Abscesses here are more common in individuals that have heart disease and diabetes.

Gallbladder Gangrene

This occurs with inadequate blood flow in the gallbladder. It’s a serious complication that develops from acute cholecystitis, and the risk of it increases in people with diabetes and men over the age of 45. Symptoms can include fever, nausea, vomiting, dull plain in the area of the gallbladder, low blood pressure, and disorientation.

Diagnosis of Gallbladder Disease

Gallbladder disease is diagnosed through a variety of tests. The doctor will also gather information about your medical history and perform a physical examination of the abdomen. Other tests used for diagnosis are abdominal and chest X-rays, the HIDA scan, ultrasounds, blood tests, MRI and CT scans, and the endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography or ERCP.

Treatment for Gallbladder Disease

Lifestyle changes are often required to treat certain gallbladder diseases such as losing weight and properly managing other conditions like diabetes. Increased physical activity also decreases the formation of gallstones. Reducing alcohol intake and high triglycerides as well as stopping smoking are also suggested.

Your doctor may recommend surgery, which means removing the gallbladder.  Many times, it can be done laparoscopically which makes recovery easier. Other treatments could involve using pain medications as needed and IV anti-inflammatories. In these cases, Advil and Aleve may not be recommended because they increase the possibility of vomiting or nausea.