What are the 10 symptoms of a gallbladder attack?


Gallbladder attacks, also known as biliary colic or cholecystitis, are episodes of intense pain caused by the blockage of the gallbladder or bile ducts. This excruciating pain can be debilitating and often requires immediate medical attention. Understanding the symptoms and underlying causes of gallbladder attacks is crucial for timely diagnosis and effective treatment.

Understanding the Gallbladder:

The gallbladder is a small organ located just below the liver. Its main function is to store and concentrate bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver. Bile is released from the gallbladder into the small intestine to help with the digestion and absorption of fats. When the gallbladder contracts, it pushes bile into the common bile duct, which then carries it to the small intestine.

Causes of Gallbladder Attacks:

Gallbladder attacks can occur due to various reasons, but the most common cause is the presence of gallstones. Gallstones are hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder due to an imbalance in the substances that make up bile, such as cholesterol and bilirubin. Other factors that can contribute to gallbladder attacks include inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), obstruction of the bile ducts, or dysfunction of the gallbladder’s ability to contract and release bile (biliary dyskinesia).

Symptoms of Gallbladder Attack:

  1. Abdominal Pain: The hallmark symptom of a gallbladder attack is severe pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, under the ribs. The pain may radiate to the back or right shoulder blade and is often described as sharp or cramp-like.
  2. Nausea and Vomiting: Many people experience nausea and vomiting during a gallbladder attack, especially after eating fatty or greasy foods. These symptoms are caused by the obstruction of bile flow and can worsen as the attack progresses.
  3. Bloating: Abdominal bloating and discomfort are common symptoms of a gallbladder attack. This is due to the buildup of gas and pressure in the digestive tract as a result of the blockage in the bile ducts.
  4. Indigestion: Difficulty digesting fatty or greasy foods is another symptom of a gallbladder attack. This can manifest as abdominal discomfort, belching, or a feeling of fullness after meals.
  5. Gas: Excessive gas production and abdominal distension may occur during a gallbladder attack. This can contribute to feelings of discomfort and bloating.
  6. Jaundice: In severe cases, a gallbladder attack can lead to jaundice, a condition characterized by yellowing of the skin and eyes. Jaundice occurs when the bile ducts become blocked, causing bile to accumulate in the bloodstream.
  7. Fever: A low-grade fever may develop during a gallbladder attack, indicating inflammation or infection of the gallbladder or bile ducts.
  8. Chronic Diarrhea: Some individuals may experience chronic diarrhea or loose stools, particularly after consuming fatty foods. This is due to the disruption of the digestive process caused by the gallbladder attack.
  9. Intolerance to Certain Foods: People with gallbladder attacks may develop an intolerance to certain foods, especially those high in fat or cholesterol. These foods can exacerbate symptoms and should be avoided during an attack.
  10. Back Pain: Pain or discomfort in the upper back or between the shoulder blades is another symptom of a gallbladder attack. This pain may be referred from the abdomen and can worsen with movement or deep breathing.

Severe Symptoms:

In some cases, gallbladder attacks can lead to severe complications that require immediate medical attention. These may include:

  • Persistent, intense abdominal pain that does not improve with rest or medication.
  • High fever or chills, indicating an infection in the gallbladder or bile ducts.
  • Jaundice accompanied by dark urine and pale stools, indicating bile duct obstruction.
  • Signs of shock, such as rapid heartbeat, fainting, or a drop in blood pressure.


Diagnosing a gallbladder attack typically involves a combination of a medical history review, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. These may include:

  • Ultrasound imaging: To visualize the gallbladder and detect the presence of gallstones or other abnormalities.
  • Blood tests: To assess liver function and look for signs of inflammation or infection.
  • Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan: A nuclear imaging test that evaluates the function of the gallbladder and bile ducts.

Treatment Options:

Treatment for gallbladder attacks depends on the severity of symptoms and underlying causes. Options may include:

  • Pain management: Over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers to alleviate discomfort during an attack.
  • Dietary modifications: Avoid fatty or greasy foods that can trigger symptoms.
  • Intravenous fluids: Administered to prevent dehydration and restore electrolyte balance.
  • Antibiotics: If the gallbladder or bile ducts are infected, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection.
  • Surgery: In cases of severe or recurrent attacks, surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) may be recommended to prevent future episodes.


Preventing gallbladder attacks involves adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet. Tips for prevention include:

  • Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Limiting consumption of fatty or greasy foods that can trigger symptoms.
  • Staying hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day.
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy weight.

Management Strategies:

Managing symptoms of gallbladder attacks involves:

  • Following a low-fat diet to minimize discomfort and prevent recurrence.
  • Practising stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers as directed by a healthcare professional.
  • Seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms worsen or if new symptoms develop.

FAQs about Gallbladder Attacks:

  1. Can gallbladder attacks be prevented?
    • While gallbladder attacks cannot always be prevented, adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet can reduce the risk of developing gallstones and experiencing symptoms.
  2. What should I do if I experience symptoms of a gallbladder attack?
    • If you experience symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or jaundice, seek medical attention immediately. Do not ignore or attempt to self-treat these symptoms, as they may indicate a serious medical condition.
  3. Are gallbladder attacks more common in certain populations?
    • Gallbladder attacks are more common in women, individuals over the age of 40, those who are overweight or obese, and people with a family history of gallstones or gallbladder disease.
  4. Can dietary changes help prevent gallbladder attacks?
    • Yes, adopting a low-fat diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce the risk of gallbladder attacks by preventing the formation of gallstones and minimizing symptoms.
  5. What are the long-term effects of recurrent gallbladder attacks?
    • Recurrent gallbladder attacks can lead to complications such as chronic inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), gallbladder infections (cholecystitis), bile duct obstruction, or pancreatitis. In severe cases, untreated gallbladder attacks can result in the development of gallbladder cancer or other serious complications.