When the gallbladder becomes inflamed it can be painful at best and dangerous at worst.  Surgery is often needed to solve this urgent problem.

What is Acute Cholecystitis?

The gallbladder sits just below the liver and stores a small amount of bile to aid in the digestion of fatty foods. When your gallbladder becomes severely inflamed, that condition is known as acute cholecystitis.

Gallstones are the most common cause behind acute cholecystitis. Gallstones can develop as a result of a buildup of either cholesterol or bilirubin. When these stones obstruct the bile duct that leads out of the gallbladder, inflammation can be the result.

While gallstones are the usual case, the gallbladder can become inflamed without an apparent cause.  The presence of diabetes can make the inflammation worse, and lead to gallbladder gangrene.  Prompt treatment with antibiotics and surgery is critical to prevent worsening illness and complications.

Symptoms of Acute Cholecystitis

The most commonly experienced symptom of acute cholecystitis is abdominal pain of several hours' duration. This pain is most often felt in the upper right or center of your abdomen. You may also feel it spread into your flank, back, or your right shoulder.  Other symptoms that can accompany the pain include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain after a meal
  • Bloating in the abdomen
  • Chills

Diagnosing acute cholecystitis

Acute cholecystitis shares symptoms with a number of other conditions. Your doctor will wish to perform tests to confirm that acute cholecystitis is the cause and to rule out other medical problems. A complete blood count and liver function tests can help determine the severity of the disease. An ultrasound of your abdomen is usually the most important diagnostic test. CT scans can also provide more information. If the situation is unclear, a specialized nuclear medicine test known as a HIDA scan can help confirm the diagnosis.

Acute cholecystitis treatment

Gallbladder inflammation can be serious and in some cases life-threatening if left untreated.  Most patients are hospitalized for antibiotics and IV fluids. Removal of the gallbladder is the usual next step depending on the patient’s condition.

Gallbladder removal may be performed either as laparoscopic or open surgery.  Inflammation of the gallbladder is a risk factor for requiring an open operation.  After surgery, patients usually recover rapidly and completely.  Some patients are too ill for surgery right away, and instead, a drainage tube is placed into the gallbladder to help treat the underlying infection.  Eventually, these patients will need gallbladder removal too.

Our doctors at The Surgery Group are expert at caring for patients with acute cholecystitis, and all types of gallbladder disease.  Please call for a consultation to discuss your specific situation.