Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (2024)

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (1)
Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini,MS,DO on December 10, 2021

Written by Rachel Reiff Ellis

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (2)

What Does Your Gallbladder Do?


This small, pear-shaped pouch is tucked right under your liver. It stores a fluid called bile your liver makes. Bile breaks down fat. When you eat, your gallbladder sends bile through ducts to your small intestine to help you digest food.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (3)

What Are Gallbladder Attacks?


When bile can’t get into or out of your gallbladder, it causes the symptoms that make up an attack. Too much bile in your gallbladder irritates it and causes inflammation and pain.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (4)

Common Symptom: Pain


A gallbladder attack usually causes a sudden gnawing pain that gets worse. You may feel it in the upper right or center of your belly, in your back between your shoulder blades, or in your right shoulder. You might also vomit or have nausea. Pain usually lasts 20 minutes to an hour.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (5)

Other Symptoms


Backed-up bile can enter your bloodstream and cause your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. Doctors call this jaundice. You could have a fever or chills, and your urine might turn the color of tea. Your poop also may be light-colored.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (6)

Common Cause: Gallstones


Too much cholesterol or bilirubin in your bile can make crystals form. They clump together and make stones. These could be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. They aren’t a problem unless they get stuck in your bile ducts and block bile from leaving. This is the most common cause of gallbladder attacks.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (7)

Other Causes


Any other kind of condition that keeps your gallbladder from working the way it should can cause an attack. These include cholecystitis (swelling and redness in the gallbladder), tumors, abscesses, sclerosing cholangitis (scarring of your bile ducts or gallbladder), abnormal tissue growth, or chronic acalculous gallbladder disease, which keeps your gallbladder from moving the way it needs to in order to empty.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (8)

Your Sex Makes Them More Likely


Women aged 20 to 60 have a higher chance of getting gallstones than men do. Extra estrogen in your body from pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, or birth control pills may be why. After 60, though, men and women are at equal risk.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (9)

Weight and Diet Play a Role


If you eat foods high in calories and refined carbohydrates and don’t get much fiber, you raise your risk of a gallbladder attack. You’re also more likely to get them if you’re obese. Quick weight loss can bring them on, too. For example, your risk goes up after weight loss surgery.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (10)

Age, Race, and Genes Raise Your Risk


As you get older, you’re more likely to have both gallstones and a gallbladder attack. Once you hit 40, your risk starts to rise. If someone in your family had gallstones, you’re more likely to get them. Native Americans and Mexican Americans tend to get gallstones more often than other races do.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (11)

Other Conditions That Boost the Odds


Certain conditions can cause gallstones and raise your risk of a gallbladder attack, such as cirrhosis (a disease in which your liver stops working because of disease or injury), infection, sickle cell anemia, intestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease that keep you from getting certain nutrients, metabolic syndrome, high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol levels, and diabetes.

Am I Having a Gallbladder Attack? (2024)
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