- Who Gets It?
- Food and Diet
- Risks and Outlook
What is cholecystitis?
The gallbladder is a small sac attached to the duct (tube) that carries bile from the liver to the intestine. Bile is a fluid that helps break down fats, which are the hardest part of food for your body to digest.
The liver is continually producing bile, and the gallbladder stores it until your body needs it. When you eat, the gallbladder squeezes, moving bile into the duct and down into the intestine. If something keeps the gallbladder from emptying, bile can build up and cause cholecystitis.
Types of cholecystitis
Cholecystitis is the medical term for inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the gallbladder.
Acute cholecystitis is a sudden, intense inflammation of the gallbladder. It can cause serious complications, so it’s important to seek medical attention. Multiple attacks of acute cholecystitis can lead to chronic cholecystitis.
Chronic cholecystitis is milder, long-term inflammation of the gallbladder. Eventually, the damage from repeated attacks of acute cholecystitis can scar and shrink the gallbladder until it can no longer function.
Symptoms of cholecystitis
People who have chronic cholecystitis may not notice symptoms, but it may still damage your gallbladder walls, which will get scarred and thicker. In time, this will make your gallbladder smaller and make it less able to store and release bile.
The main symptom of acute cholecystitis is steady pain in the upper right or upper middle abdomen. The pain can be sharp or dull. It may spread to your right shoulder or back. You may have other symptoms such as:
- Nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up)
- Vomiting (throwing up)
- Loose, light-colored stools
- Jaundice (a yellowish tint to your skin and the whites of your eyes)
- Bloated belly
- Pain spreading to your back or below your right shoulder blade, which may worsen when you breath deeply
- Strong, sudden pain in the upper right part of your belly
Causes of cholecystitis
Most cases of acute cholecystitis are due to gallstones. Gallstones form in the gallbladder when material from bile packs together into hard lumps.
Some gallstones are as small as grains of sand and pass out of the gallbladder without you even noticing. However, gallstones can be as large as golf balls.
If a gallstone gets stuck in a bile duct, you may have a sudden burst of symptoms such as pain and vomiting. If the gallstone passes on its own and symptoms end within a few hours, it is called biliary colic. Acute cholecystitis lasts longer, often 2 to 3 days.
Who can get cholecystitis?
You are more likely to get cholecystitis if you are:
Treatments for cholecystitis
The only known way to cure chronic cholecystitis is to remove the gallbladder. If you have another medical condition that makes surgery too risky, there are other treatments that can remove or dissolve gallstones. The gallstones will most likely return, however, so surgery is recommended when possible.
Treatment for acute cholecystitis
If you have acute cholecystitis, you will probably need to visit a hospital for treatment. The doctor will likely ask you not to eat or drink until your symptoms decrease. They will put you on an intravenous drip to give you fluids and medicines. These may include antibiotics to treat infection and medicines that help with pain and nausea.
You may have surgery to remove your gallbladder while you are still in the hospital, or you may be sent home to recover first. You may be able to leave the hospital when your pain is under control, you have no signs of infection, and you are able to eat and drink.
Recovery at home
When you go home from the hospital, you will probably be given prescriptions for oral (taken by mouth) antibiotics and pain medicine. Your doctor is likely to recommend that you eat a low-fat diet until your gallbladder can be removed.
Fatty foods can cause the gallbladder to contract, setting off your symptoms again. A high-fat diet may also increase your chances of developing more gallstones.
You may be able to reduce your risk by:
Food and diet for cholecystitis
To minimize symptoms, eat smaller amounts of food throughout the day instead of having three big meals. Always check with your doctor before making major changes to your diet. The following lists can help you plan low-fat, high-fiber menus.
High-fat foods to avoid include:
- Fried foods
- Fish canned in oil
- Sausage, bacon, pepperoni, and salami
- Full-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and ice cream
- Cream-based soups and sauces
- Butter, margarine, mayonnaise, and bottled salad dressing (limit to 2-3 T per day)
- Baked goods bought at a store or restaurant (donuts, croissants, scones, biscuits, waffles, muffins, cakes, pies, cookies, and dessert breads)
- Most fast food
- Most packaged snack foods, including granola bars, chips, crackers, and chocolate
Some healthier options you can try are:
- Baking, grilling, roasting, and broiling
- Fresh fish, frozen fish, fish canned in water, crab, shrimp
- Lean meats and poultry (trim fat and skin off before eating)
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and sour cream
- Broth-based soups
- Fat-free sauces (pasta, hot, barbeque, soy, teriyaki, cocktail, etc.)
- Ketchup, mustards, and vinegars
- Olive and sesame oils, lemon juice, herbs, and spices
- Whole grain breads, cereals, crackers, tortillas, and pastas
- Brown rice, quinoa, oats, grits, and baked potatoes
- Fruits that are fresh, frozen, dried, or canned in their own juice
- Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables
- Beans, peas, and lentils
Risks and outlook for cholecystitis
Gallbladder removal is one of the most common surgeries in the United States. Most people can go home soon after the surgery and recover in about a week.
After the surgery, your body will still be able to digest fat. The liver will continue to produce bile, but it will drain directly into the intestine instead of being stored in the gallbladder.
Possible complications of cholecystitis
If you leave cholecystitis untreated, it can lead to serious complications, including:
- Infection and pus buildup in the gallbladder
- Gangrene death of tissue in the gallbladder
- Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas
Should I call the doctor?
If you have severe pain in your abdomen, fever and chills, or jaundice, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
Digestive Disorders Resources
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Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Cholecystitis."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "What Causes a Gallbladder Attack?"
Harvard Health Publishing: "Cholecystitis."
HealthLinkBC: "Eating Guidelines For Gallbladder Disease."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Treatment for Gallstones."
StatPearls: "Biliary Colic."
University Hospitals: "The Digestive Process: How Does the Gallbladder Aid in Digestion?"