Gallbladder inflammation

Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder. Gallstones are usually responsible for this. Milder inflammation can be treated conservatively. If the inflammation is severe or chronic, the gallbladder usually needs to be removed.

The gallbladder holds bile, which is important for digesting fat. In more than 90% of cases, gallstones are responsible for gallbladder inflammation. The stones irritate the mucosa of the gallbladder, which causes a mechanically triggered inflammation. If a gallstone prevents biliary drainage into the duodenum, this can cause the bile to back up in the gallbladder. In such situations, intestinal bacteria can migrate into the gallbladder, resulting in a bacterial inflammation of the gallbladder. Gallbladder inflammation can occur at any age; however, it occurs predominantly after the age of 40. Women are affected by it more frequently than men. Excessive weight, fatty food and limited exercise are deemed to be risk factors.

Gallbladder inflammation can be acute or chronic. Acute gallbladder inflammation typically begins with severe, colic-type pain attacks in the upper abdomen. The pain can radiate out into the shoulder blades or the right shoulder. The pain is commonly accompanied by nausea and sweating.  Fever and shivering are signs of bacterial inflammation of the gallbladder. Severe cases of gallbladder inflammation where there is impaired biliary drainage can cause jaundice.

If there is chronic inflammation of the gallbladder, the symptoms are less extensive. Those affected often complain of a mild feeling of pressure in the upper abdomen, flatulence and mild nausea.

Different examinations are carried out to diagnose gallbladder inflammation. If there is inflammation, typical pressure pain in the right side of the upper abdomen is evident upon inhalation when palpating the abdomen. Existing gallstones can also be detected with an ultrasound examination, and the filling of the gallbladder can be assessed. Blood tests provide evidence of a bacterial infection.

The treatment depends on the severity of the gallbladder inflammation. Milder forms can be treated conservatively; for example, with antispasmodic medication, antibiotics and fasting for a minimum of 24 hours. Severe, acute gallbladder inflammation usually requires surgery. The gallbladder is not a vital organ and can be removed without any difficulty. The symptoms of chronic gallbladder inflammation can also usually only be improved by removing the gallbladder. Chronic inflammation also poses a risk for the occurrence of gallbladder cancer. Thus, the gallbladder is often also removed in patients with chronic inflammation. The surgery is usually performed via a laparoscopy. Find out more about the surgical treatment options for gallbladder inflammation in the gallbladder surgery section.