- Symptoms and Signs
What is cholelithiasis vs cholecystitis?
Cholelithiasis and cholecystitis both affect your gallbladder. Cholelithiasis occurs when gallstones develop. If these gallstones block the bile duct from the gallbladder to the small intestine, bile can build up in the gallbladder and cause inflammation. This inflammation is called cholecystitis.
Gallstones are common for many people who live in the United States.
Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located beneath the liver. It stores a fluid called bile that is produced by the liver and helps with digestion. When you eat, you need bile to help digest food.
Gallstones can get stuck in the bile duct and cause bile to build up, which may cause pain and other symptoms.
Cholecystitis develops when bile builds up in the gallbladder and causes pressure and infection. The most common cause is gallstones that block the duct, but it can occur for other reasons.
What are symptoms and signs of cholecystitis vs. cholelithiasis?
Signs and symptoms of cholelithiasis
Gallstones often have no symptoms and people are not aware that they have them. In these cases, you may be able to pass a gallstone without any symptoms. However, there are times that gallstones may block the duct and you may experience symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of cholelithiasis include :
- Sudden, severe pain that develops in the upper right abdomen
- Pain that comes and goes
- Pain that radiates into the back or down the arm
- Pain that lasts for 12 hours to a couple of days and then dissipates
Signs and symptoms of cholecystitis
Symptoms of cholecystitis include :
- Severe, sudden pain in the upper right abdomen
- A sharp pain when pressing on the area
- Pain that becomes worse when you breathe in
- Pain that spreads to your back or right shoulder blade
- Stiff abdominal muscles
- Belly bloating
- Yellowing skin and eyes called jaundice
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stool
Causes of cholecystitis vs. cholelithiasis
Cholelithiasis can lead to cholecystitis. Gallstones may pass easily, but they may eventually lead to inflammation and infection in the gallbladder.
Causes of cholelithiasis
Gallstones develop because there is too much cholesterol in the bile and the excess forms stones. During pregnancy, the extra amount of estrogen can cause higher levels of cholesterol to form, which can lead to higher levels of gallbladder sludge. This sludge doesn’t flow well and can eventually turn into gallstones.
Certain conditions and risk factors may lead to developing gallstones. These include:
- Being overweight
- Being female
- Being over age 40
- Rapid weight loss
- Eating a Western diet
- Alcohol-related liver disease
Causes of cholecystitis
If gallstones block the bile duct, or other conditions cause the bile to stay trapped in the gallbladder, inflammation and infection can occur. Gallstones are the most common cause of cholecystitis.
Other conditions may cause cholecystitis, including :
How to diagnose cholelithiasis vs cholecystitis
Your doctor will examine you to determine whether you have gallstones or cholecystitis.
Diagnosis for cholelithiasis
Your doctor will do an ultrasound or imaging test like an X-Ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan of your belly. This will help your doctor see the gallstones and sludge in your gallbladder and diagnose cholelithiasis.
They may also do blood tests to check for liver function and to see if you have signs of infection.
Diagnosis for cholecystitis
Your doctor will perform similar tests for cholecystitis as with gallstones. They will physically examine you and check your abdomen, and they may order blood tests to check for liver function and infection. If you have a high white blood cell count, this indicates an infection .
They may also do imaging tests and ultrasounds to look for stones and sludge in your gallbladder.
Treatments for cholelithiasis vs. cholecystitis
Treatments may vary between cholelithiasis vs cholecystitis.
Treatments for cholelithiasis
Many people are able to pass gallstones without having symptoms or even being aware they have gallstones. However, those who have symptoms from gallstones usually have surgery as pain and further problems are more likely to happen again.
Treatments for cholelithiasis include:
- Keyhole gallbladder removal surgery
- Bile salts medication to dissolve stones
However, nonsurgical methods are rarely used for people who have severe pain and other symptoms.
Treatments for cholecystitis
In most cases, people with cholecystitis need to be hospitalized. You may receive a tube through the nose that enters the stomach. This will help to suction the stomach and keep it empty to reduce your symptoms.
While in the hospital, you may receive treatments for cholecystitis, including:
- Gallbladder removal surgery
- Intravenous pain medication
- Bile salts medication to dissolve stones
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Cholecystitis.”
Merck Manual: “Cholecystitis – Liver and Gallbladder Disorders.”
Merck Manual: “Cholelithiasis – Hepatic and Biliary Disorders.”
National Health Service: “Overview – Gallstones.”
National Institutes of Health National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Gallstones.”