Gallbladder Attack Symptoms

The gallbladder is located under the liver and stores bile, which is used to help digest fats. Gallstones are small, pebble-like substances that develop in the gallbladder and block the ducts that carry bile. Eighty percent of gallstones are made up of cholesterol, while the rest are composed of pigment, a waste product of hemoglobin. Many people who have gallstones have no symptoms. However, when normal flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine through the cystic duct is obstructed, the gallbladder becomes inflamed. This is known as cholecystitis. Stones can also obstruct the common biliary duct. This is known as choledocholithiasis.


Intense pain occurs in the upper right part of the abdomen and comes on suddenly, usually a few hours after eating a meal high in fat. The pain can also occur in the center of the abdomen and spread to the back and under the right shoulder blade. Pain can last for a few minutes to a few hours. Seek immediate medical attention if pain is so severe that you cannot find a comfortable position or if pain persists.


Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting are not uncommon, especially after eating a meal high in fat. In older adults, the only symptoms of an attack may be loss of appetite and vomiting, unaccompanied by pain and fever.


According to The Merck Manuals, one-third of people with acute cholecystitis will develop a fever above 100.4 degrees F. Fever may be accompanied by chills. People who suffer from chronic cholecystitis rarely develop a fever.


When a stone blocks the common bile duct and causes the bile to back up into the liver, jaundice may occur, causing the skin and whites of the eye to turn yellow and producing dark urine and light-colored stools. This is an emergency, and immediate medical care should be sought. The bile backed up in the liver can cause the gallbladder to perforate or rupture and cause inflammation of the pancreas.

About this Author

Shelly Guillory has been a registered nurse for seven years, specializing in the areas of oncology, infectious disease, and psychiatric nursing. Guillory has been writing for six years and is currently pursing degrees in journalism and photography at the University of Utah.