Gallbladder Dysfunction Symptoms

Gallbladder dysfunction symptoms depend on whether or not the gallbladder dysfunction is an acute problem or a chronic one. Gallbladder dysfunction frequently occurs because of the formation of gallstones. However, 90 percent of gallstones do not cause symptoms, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. When symptoms do arise they are caused by inflammation of the gallbladder and blockage of bile ducts in the gallbladder and biliary tree.


Pain is the most common symptom associated with gallbladder disease. Chronic, non-acute gallbladder disease can cause intermittent pain called biliary colic. The pain comes and goes, occurring in the middle to right upper portion of the abdomen. Typically the pain will begin after eating a meal, especially a fatty meal. The authors of “Medical-Surgical Nursing: Critical Thinking for Collaborative Care,” explain that sometimes the pain may radiate to the upper back, especially if a person is having an acute gallbladder attack. Then the pain is severe and may last for several hours to days. The severe pain associated with an acute gallbladder attack can leave a person restless, unable to find a comfortable position.

Nausea and Vomiting

Gallbladder dysfunction symptoms include nausea and vomiting. For some patients it is the severe pain that leads to nausea and vomiting. For others, it may be that gallstones have blocked the bile ducts, preventing the bile stored in the gallbladder from reaching the small intestine where it is used to help digest fat and carbohydrates. Improper digestion may lead to nausea and vomiting.

Fever and Chills

The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that about one-third of people experiencing an acute gallbladder attack develop a fever and chills. If these symptoms occur, you should seek medical care because the gallbladder may be very inflamed and at risk for becoming gangrenous or rupturing.


Chronic gallbladder dysfunction symptoms include diarrhea for a period of three months or more. A person may have anywhere from four to 10 loose bowel movements a day. This can be related to the intestines not being able to properly digest fats because there is not enough bile present.


Jaundice is another symptom of chronic gallbladder dysfunction. Jaundice is a yellow discoloring of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes. This may occur when gallstones block the passage of bile through the biliary system. This can affect not only the gallbladder but the liver as well because the liver produces bile which is stored in the gallbladder. If stones and inflammation block the liver and gallbladder bile ducts, both organs become affected. Bile backs up in the system and causes an increase in the serum blood levels of bilirubin. It is this elevated blood level of bilirubin that causes jaundice.

About this Author

Patricia Nevins is a registered nurse with nearly 20 years of nursing experience. She obtained her Master of Science in nursing with a focus in education from the University of Phoenix. Nevins shares her passion for healthy living through her roles as educator, nursing consultant and writer.