What are Common Diseases Affecting the Gallbladder?

Located beneath the liver, the gallbladder is a sac responsible for storing and concentrating bile. Sometimes, the flow of bile from the gallbladder is obstructed or slowed down. When this happens, the result is often gallbladder disease. Cholecystitis and cholelithiasis are common gallbladder diseases.

Acute cholecystitis is a gallbladder disease characterized by the sudden inflammation of the gallbladder. Caused by gallstones, it is very painful. When an individual has cholecystitis, gallstones form and block or obstruct the duct that leads from the gallbladder to the tube leading to the small intestine. This tube is called the common bile duct. Trapped and unable to flow properly, the bile builds in concentration, causing irritation and the build-up of pressure within the gallbladder. The result is infection and often perforation.

Symptoms of acute cholecystitis can include pain in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and fever. While pain is a common symptom of this type of gallbladder disease, nausea, vomiting, and fever occur only occasionally. Women are plagued by gallstones more frequently than men. Gallbladder disorders becomes more common as men and women grow older.

Cholelithiasis is another common type of gallbladder disease. It is also caused by gallstones. With cholelithiasis, symptoms typically begin once a stone larger than 8 mm obstructs the common bile duct or the cystic duct.
The cystic duct is responsible for draining the gallbladder. Cholelithiasis is known to cause cramp-like pain in the right upper abdomen. Other symptoms can include clay-colored stools, nausea, vomiting, excess gas, heartburn, and abdominal fullness.

If a gallstone is unable to pass and the cystic duct remains blocked, the result is acute cholecystitis. If the common bile duct remains obstructed, it may become infected, resulting in serious health consequences. Jaundice and fever may occur, and hospitalization is normally required at this stage. If the lower end of the common bile duct is blocked, pancreatitis may occur. This condition also requires hospitalization.

Acalculous cholecystitis is a gallbladder disease that is not associated with gallstones. It is inflammatory in nature and often found in patients suffering or recovering from major illnesses, trauma, burns, vascular disease, or deficiencies of the immune system. Though this gallbladder condition is serious, it is also rare.