Three Reasons You Experience Gallbladder Pain
You may have heard of the dreaded, “gallbladder attack” but it’s not always clear to people why we can experience gallbladder pain and dysfunction. Just what goes wrong?
In order to understand what a gallbladder attack is, it’s helpful to know what this small, pear-shaped organ does. The gallbladder is located just underneath the liver, on the upper righthand side of your abdomen.
The liver secretes a substance called bile, which it then sends to the gallbladder for storage. The gallbladder not only stores bile for later use but concentrates it so that the correct potency and volume of bile is released to digest your food.
The fats we eat need to be emulsified in order to be digested thoroughly. Some fats in particular, such as saturated and hydrogenated fats, are quite hard to digest. The bile, containing cholesterol, salts and pigments, is triggered to squeeze out of the gallbladder and into the duodenum just as the food arrives from the stomach. This helpful brownish liquid also ensures that you absorb fat-soluble vitamins from your food such as vitamin A, D, E and K.
A gallbladder in pain tells you it can’t do its job. Sometimes, the contents of bile form small stones called gallstones. These range in size from grains of sand to golf balls. Many people don’t even know that they have them but when one becomes lodged in the opening of the gallbladder or a bile duct, they quickly realize something is wrong as the pain sets in.
The primary reason for gallbladder pain is gallstones. Biliary colic is the medical term for the aching, nervy pain connected with a gallstone temporarily lodged in a narrow opening. This typically peaks in intensity between 15-30 minutes, then fades gradually over a few hours.
Pain from a gallstone can radiate to surprising areas such as the upper back and right shoulder blade, neck or chest. The phrenic nerve which passes close to the gallbladder is affected by the inflammation there and this is why gallbladder discomfort can travel throughout the path of the nerve to far away locations.
A secondary reason for gallbladder aching can be biliary sludge. This thickened bile fluid can be almost as hard to pass through narrow openings as a stone. The bile may thicken because the gallbladder isn’t contracting regularly enough, because of diet, hormones or other factors.
There are plenty of plants, fruit and supplements you can take to safely thin the bile and increase its production. A gallbladder diet may also aid in managing gallstone symptoms.
A third reason some people experience gallbladder pain is cholecystitis- gallbladder inflammation. Acute cholecystitis is a complication of biliary colic or other gallbladder disease.
Though this pain is sometimes also referred to as a gallbladder attack, the duration can be several hours to a few days and may require emergency care. The pain is typically severe and persistent, while nausea, vomiting, fever and chills may manifest. If you experience these symptoms, please seek medical attention.