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Cholecystitis - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Updated on December 1, 2013


What is Cholecystitis?

This is inflammation of your gallbladder that will usually develop over several hours. It is a small organ that lies near your liver and has a part in digesting your food. There are two types of cholecystitis: chronic cholecystitis and acute cholecystitis.

Acute cholecystitis will happen suddenly, usually occur in people that are critically ill and is a rare condition. Chronic cholecystitis occurs when your gallbladder has been swollen for a long period of time and persistent. When you have cholecystitis the walls of your gallbladder become hard and thick. In the United States it is a common disease and is more common for women to have this than men. It happens more frequently after the age of forty.


The symptoms of cholecystitis can either remain constant or come and go. There are some people who have no symptoms. When you have cholecystitis your bile backs up in your gallbladder and can cause a variety of symptoms and can vary in intensity. The symptoms are similar to having a gallstones attack.

Some of the common symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain that is steady, severe and in the upper right part. It seems to get worse when you breathe deeply.
  • Abdominal symptoms that happen within a few minutes after eating a meal, especially one that is large and fatty.
  • Tenderness in your abdomen
  • Stools that are clay-colored
  • Chills and fever
  • No appetite
  • Nausea that can occur with or without vomiting.
  • Pain that radiates from the abdomen to your back or right shoulder.
  • Sweating
  • The whites of your eyes or skin begin to yellow
  • Chronic indigestion
  • Chronic belching

Serious symptoms that may indicate a condition that is life-threatening:

  • Distension, swelling, or bloating of your abdomen.
  • Fever that is higher than one hundred one degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Nausea that can occur with or without vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain that is severe.

The pain from cholecystitis can last twelve hours or long with the muscles on the right side of your abdomen becoming rigid. The symptoms may subside after a few days and may totally disappear after seven days. If they do not go away after seven days you should visit your physician.


The most common cause for cholecystitis is having a gallstone stuck in your cystic duct. This is the duct, or tube, that carries the bile from your gallbladder. The gallstone blocks the fluid from passing out of your gallbladder causing your gallbladder to become swollen and irritated. It can also be caused by trauma like an injury suffered from a car accident or from an infection or tumor.


When you visit your physician you will tell him your symptoms and then he will do a physical exam. The physician will feel your abdomen on the upper right side to check for tenderness. He may have blood tests done along with an ultrasound. This is a test that will use sound waves to help give them a picture of your gallbladder. On the ultrasound the physician can see if there are any gallstones, if the gallbladder wall is thick, if there is any extra fluid in the gallbladder or any other symptoms of having cholecystitis. With an ultrasound the physician can also check the shape and size of the gallbladder.

The physician may also want to have a gallbladder scan do, which is a nuclear scanning test that will check to see if your gallbladder is working as it should. This test can help the physician find any blockages in the tubes that go from the liver to your small intestines and gallbladder.


How cholecystitis is treated depends on your general health ant the symptoms you are experiencing. If you have no symptoms but do have gallstones there may be no treatment needed. Usually when you are diagnosed with cholecystitis you will be admitted to the hospital. Normally you are not allowed to drink at all or have anything to eat. You will also be kept on intravenous liquids to give your digestive system time to rest. If there is any infection you will be given medications to help get rid of the infection.

If you have acute cholecystitis they will usually perform surgery to remove your gallbladder. This type of surgery may be done through several small incisions in your abdomen but there are times that a person may have to have extensive surgery. Before removing your gallbladder the surgeon may try to reduce the irritation and swelling. If the cause of acute cholecystitis is caused by gallstones getting stuck in the main tube that leads to your intestines the surgeon may use an "endoscopic procedure" to remove the stones before they remove your gallbladder. You do not need your gallbladder to survive and having it removed will not affect your ability to digest your food. The only complication, or drawback, to having your gallbladder removed is you may have diarrhea.

In rare cases of having chronic cholecystitis the physician may give you a medication that would dissolve the gallstones over a certain period of time. In order to help prevent the symptoms from coming back if you do not have your gallbladder removed you need to make sure that you are avoiding meals that consist of foods that are high in fat and fatty foods along with spicy foods. You should also cut back on sodas and caffeine and avoid alcohol.


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