What is Gallbladder Disease?

Gallbladder disease is a term used for several types of conditions that affect the body’s bile system. This system includes the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts. If you’re wondering where your gallbladder is, it is located underneath your liver.

Your gallbladder’s main function is to store the bile produced by your liver. It also passes the bile through a duct that empties into the small intestine. Bile is used to help you digest fats in your small intestine. Sometimes, the bile hardens and forms small, solid particles that we call gallstones. 

Types of Gallbladder Disease

Common health issues that can affect the gallbladder are:


Diagram of Gallstones - Get gallstone treatment in Tennessee

Gallbladder disease occurs when substances in the bile, such as cholesterol, bile salts, and calcium build up in the bile system. These substances develop gallstones that block the passageways to the gallbladder and bile ducts.

Gallstones can also form when the gallbladder doesn’t completely empty. And gallstones can range from the size of a small grain of sand to the size of a golf ball. 

Types of Gallstones

There are two types of gallstones, cholesterol stones, and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones are the most common type and are typically larger. Pigment stones are smaller but usually more than one pass at a time.

Symptoms and Signs

Oftentimes gallstones do not cause any symptoms. However, as the gallstones grow larger, they can become trapped in an opening or duct inside the gallbladder. When this occurs, you may feel symptoms such as:

  • Severe pain in the upper abdomen (gallbladder attacks)
  • Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Jaundice – a yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Intolerance of fatty foods
  • Belching or gas
  • or Indigestion

 Each individual may experience symptoms differently. Anyone suffering severe pain should consult a doctor immediately. 


Cholecystitis is the most common type of gallbladder disease. This is a more severe gallstone blockage inside a biliary tract that can cause swelling in the gallbladder. It presents itself as either an acute or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder.

Acute cholecystitis

The main symptom of this acute gallbladder disease is a sudden sharp pain in the abdomen that may last 6 hours or longer. This is commonly referred to as a gallbladder attack. Gallbladder attacks cause pain in the upper right side of the abdomen.

What does a gallbladder attack feel like?

A gallbladder attack usually starts as a sudden pain that grows worse in the upper right or center of the body. This pain can also be located in the back between the shoulder blades or in the right shoulder. While some last minutes, other gallbladder attacks last hours. The fastest way to relieve gallbladder pain is to apply a heated compress, heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm wet towel to the area for 10-15 minutes. Magnesium supplements can also aid in the gallbladder emptying bile and ease spasms and pain.

Some people may experience additional signs and symptoms, such as:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • a fever
  • slight yellowing of the skin
  • or swelling in the abdomen
How Long Does a Gallbladder Attack Last?

A gallbladder attack will typically last anywhere between 15 minutes to several hours. Often, the pain can escalate to high levels and can radiate to the left side of the body and to the back. The pain may also come and go over time. Meals high in fat tend to aggravate gallbladder irritations, so reducing fat intake can be helpful.

Chronic cholecystitis

This chronic condition is the result of long-term inflammation in the gallbladder. This occurs when the gallbladder does not drain properly.

Symptoms include recurrent abdominal pain. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. Gallbladder inflammation can cause many serious complications like infection, tissue decay, and gallbladder tears. 

Both forms of gallbladder inflammation can lead to critical complications. Seek medical attention immediately if a person shows any of the symptoms listed above. 

Risk Factors for Gallbladder Disease

There are many risk factors for gallbladder disease. A few of the most common risks are associated with gender, age, obesity, and ethnicity.

Other risks include:

  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Fat and cholesterol-rich diets
  • Family history of gallbladder disease
  • Diabetes
  • Blood disorders
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Treatment for Gallbladder Disease

Prevention and Treatment

Lifestyle changes

Because low activity rates are one of the risk factors for gallbladder disease, daily lifestyle changes may help. If you do not have symptoms of gallbladder disease, these changes may even prevent symptoms. Lifestyle changes may include increasing physical activity or reducing unhealthy fats in your diet.

While it can be tempting to make dramatic changes to your diet, extreme dieting will hurt you more. In contrast, if you want a healthy diet, it is more about eating in balance. For example: 

  1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  2. Buy whole grain breads and cereals
  3. Include legumes such as beans and peas in your meals
  4. Use healthy fats like olive oil

With this in mind, you can begin to prevent gallbladder disease on your own. However, if you have any questions, talk to your doctor. You can also ask a nutritionist, in addition to your doctor, about safe ways to manage your daily lifestyle and diet.

Medical treatment

The first episode of gallbladder inflammation is often treated with pain medications. Because the pain is often severe, prescription medications are needed. 


Surgery will be recommended to remove your gallbladder if you’ve experienced multiple episodes of inflammation. Gallbladder surgery continues to be the most effective method for treating gallbladder disease.

Surgeons often use a technique known as laparoscopy to remove the gallbladder. This involves making several small incisions through the abdominal wall and inserting a camera. Your abdomen is then inflated with gas, so the surgeon has more room to work. And then, the surgeon will remove your gallbladder through the incisions.

Laparoscopic surgery allows for faster recovery. This method is preferred for people who don’t have complications of significant gallbladder disease. Pain after gallbladder surgery is often caused by the gas put into the abdomen after surgery and will subside after 24-48 hours. 

If you need treatment for gallbladder disease, start by getting to know some of our surgeons who offer gallbladder surgery. See our general surgeon below who specialize in gallbladder surgery.

Schedule Your Appointment Today

If you are searching for relief from symptoms caused by gallbladder disease, contact The Surgical Clinic and schedule a consultation. Or visit one of our clinic locations in Nashville, Franklin, Gallatin, Hermitage, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro, and Smyrna, TN. If you experience repeating gallbladder attacks, medical intervention may be the best solution for your health.

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