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Last modified on December 20th, 2022
The gallbladder is a small organ shaped like a pear under your liver. Your gallbladder is responsible for storing and releasing bile, a fluid your liver produces. Bile helps digest fats in the food you eat. Bile is made up of bilirubin, bile salts, and cholesterol. Your gallbladder is part of your digestive system. The organ brings bile into the small intestine, allowing fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients to be absorbed into your bloodstream more efficiently.
The gallbladder is in the upper right section of your abdomen and is around four inches big.
People can experience gallbladder problems, affecting their health and digestion. So, what are the first signs of a bad gallbladder? We talk more about it below.
What Are the First Signs of a Bad Gallbladder?
While it can vary for different people, the following are some of the first signs of a bad gallbladder:
- Pain: The most common symptom of a bad gallbladder is pain. The pain is often intermittent, meaning it comes and goes. You may feel the pain near your rib cage, in your upper right abdomen, and it can feel gnawing or steady. The pain can become severe, radiating to the upper back. This type of pain is called biliary colic pain. You may experience it right after a meal and for several hours, and it then tends to go away until you eat again.
- Nausea or vomiting: You might have nausea or vomiting accompanying pain in your upper right abdomen as the first signs of a bad gallbladder.
- Diarrhea: Another one of the first signs of a bad gallbladder is chronic diarrhea. Chronic gallbladder disease tends to involve gallstones. The buildup of stones and subsequent scar tissue can worsen gas and nausea, leading to diarrhea after meals.
- Jaundice: if you have gallstones stuck in your common bile duct, it can lead to jaundice. Jaundice is when there’s a yellowing of the skin or eyes.
- Light stools: If your stools are light-colored, it can be an abnormality indicating that your bile duct is blocked.
- Urine discoloration: If your urine is dark, it can be one of the first signs of a bad gallbladder because of a blockage of the common duct.
If you experience fever or chills, this can immediately indicate an infection requiring treatment. Of all the common signs of a bad gallbladder, pain is the most common, especially if it radiates to other areas of your body, like your chest and back.
What Is a Bad Gallbladder?
The term “bad gallbladder” is often used to refer to any condition affecting the small organ. Specific gallbladder diseases include:
- Inflammation, also called cholecystitis which, can be acute or chronic
- Common bile duct inflection
- Gallstones are hard deposits
- Gallbladder polyps
- Gallbladder sludge blockage
- Rupture of the gallbladder
- In porcelain gallbladder, when calcium deposits stiffen the walls, making them rigid
- Gallbladder cancer, which is rare but can spread quickly if not detected
Gallstones are a somewhat common condition affecting the organ. Gallstones are deposits that can go undetected for years. Many people have them and don’t know it, but eventually, they can cause problems like pain, inflammation, and infection.
Gallstones are made up of fats, proteins, and minerals. A gallbladder attack can happen when the stones block the bile duct or tube. This leads to bile building up in your gallbladder, triggering pain. The attack will typically stop when the gallstones move so the bile can flow.
The two main most common types of stones are cholesterol gallstones and pigment gallstones.
Cholesterol gallstones are the most common, made up of cholesterol or fat. Pigment gallstones occur when your bile has too much bilirubin.
You can have gallstones without a gallbladder attack, and if the gallstones aren’t blocking the bile ducts, it’s unlikely you’ll experience symptoms.
What is Gallbladder Sludge?
If your gallbladder isn’t completely emptying, the particles in bile can thicken from sitting there for too long. They eventually turn into biliary sludge, referred to as gallbladder sludge.
Some people with gallbladder sludge won’t have symptoms, but others will have symptoms similar to gallstones or an inflamed gallbladder. The primary symptoms of sludge in the gallbladder are abdominal pain in the upper right side under the ribs.
Other symptoms similar to the initial signs of a bad gallbladder include chest pain, shoulder pain, nausea and vomiting, and clay-like stools.
The sludge may be more common during pregnancy. Other groups with a higher risk of sludge in the gallbladder include:
- Women generally have higher rates of gallbladder issues than men
- People who get nutrition through an alternative or another alternative
- Critically ill people
- People with diabetes
- People who lost weight quickly after being overweight
- Individuals who went through an organ transplant
Gallbladder sludge may improve on its own, but it can also lead to gallstones or require surgery if they lead to an obstruction in the bile duct. Gallbladder sludge can lead to inflammation, and in the most severe cases, inflammation can erode the gallbladder wall, leading to a perforation leaking into the abdominal cavity.
Sludge in the gallbladder can also cause acute pancreatitis, which is inflammation. It can lead enzymes to be active in the pancreas rather than the intestines, and the inflammation can cause a systemic response.
If someone has gallbladder sludge, especially if it’s a recurring problem, lifestyle changes may be needed, including eating a low fat and low cholesterol diet.
Following a Gallbladder Diet
If you’re experiencing the initial signs of a bad gallbladder, you should talk to your doctor about options to help you deal with the pain. Also, if you’re going to have gallbladder surgery, your doctor might recommend that you might change your diet before the surgery and after.
Foods that worsen gallbladder problems include processed foods, foods high in trans fats, and refined carbohydrates like sugar and white bread.
A gallbladder-friendly diet includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, foods with vitamin C and plant-based protein. Healthy fats like fish, nuts, and calcium-rich foods are good for gallbladder health. Coffee can also reduce the risk of gallstones and gallbladder diseases.
When To See a Doctor
The symptoms and signs of a bad gallbladder tend to come and go, but you’re at a higher risk of a problem if you’ve had one before. Gallbladder problems are rarely deadly, but you should still see a doctor if you have symptoms like abdominal pain lasting at least five hours, jaundice, or pale stools. You should also see a doctor if you have sweating, chills, a low-grade fever, and other symptoms.
Final Takeaway—What Are the First Signs of a Bad Gallbladder?
So, to sum up, what are the first signs of a bad gallbladder? The main one Is almost always pain in the upper right section of the abdomen. This pain can be intermittent and get worse for a few hours following eating.
Allarakha, Shaziya MD. “What Are the First Signs of a Bad Gallbladder?” Medicinenet, April 12, 2022. Accessed September 7, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. “Gallbladder.” July 28, 2021. Accessed September 7, 2022.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Gallbladder Disease.” Accessed September 7, 2022.
NIH National Library of Medicine. “Gallbladder Diseases.” MedlinePlus, July 14, 2016. Accessed September 7, 2022.
Mount Sinai. “Gallstones and gallbladder disease.” Accessed September 7, 2022.