Gallbladder attacks can be scary, and sometimes people can mistake them for a heart attack.
This small digestive organ is unable to properly aid the digestive process when you have gallbladder problems.
The result of storing liver bile is gallstones forming in the bile duct ducts.
With that in mind, it is essential that you differentiate gallbladder attack symptoms from heart attack symptoms.
While both are downright scary, knowing the difference will help you treat the problem properly.
Similar as heart attack, gallbladder attack can come on suddenly and last between few minutes or few hours.
You definitely need hospitalization, but staying calm and recognizing the symptoms is important to your health.
Table of Contents
What is the gallbladder?
Before we get to the symptoms of the attack, let’s talk briefly about the gallbladder and what role it plays in your body https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones.
The gallbladder is a four-inch, pear-shaped organ that is positioned under the liver in the upper right section of the abdomen.
The role of the gallbladder is to store bile, which is a combination of fluids, fat, and cholesterol. Bile breaks down fat from food in your intestine.
The role of the gallbladder is to deliver bile to the small intestine and allow fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
In most cases, the attack symptoms are linked with the presence of gallstones https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/gallbladder-disease.
But as we will see later on, there are other causes of the symptoms https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3343155/.
Symptoms of a gallbladder attack
The first and usually most evident symptom of gallbladder attack and gallstones is the pain in the upper right portion of the stomach, just under the ribs.
The pain will start there, but it will radiate outwards, moving gradually to the center of your belly and your upper back.
The symptoms linked with pain usually last about 15 minutes.
However, some patients also report lingering pain that can last for hours and prevent them from sleeping.
Being that the gallbladder is part of your digestive system, any trouble results in problems with digestion.
Some of the indigestion attack symptoms you might experience include gas, bloating, nausea, and discomfort after meals.
However, they might be vague and difficult to distinguish from similar indigestion complaints.
It is logical to experience some indigestion problems, being that the gallbladder enables vitamins A, E, D, and K to pass through the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream.
When these vitamins do not pass, we experience digestion problems.
Patients experience steady gripping pain, similar to heartburn in the upper right abdomen section near the rib cage.
Another symptom linked with digestion is vomiting.
You might experience nausea vomiting, especially after meals.
It will relieve some of the stomach pain and gas pressure, but it is usually accompanied by a fever and extreme nausea.
The pain is referred as biliary pain and colic and can last anywhere between one and several hours after a meal.
Biliary colic can also happen during the night, due to sleeping positions.
This symptom occurs if the problem is not treated for a while.
When gallstones become lodged in, the bile substance will remain in your body and bloodstream.
As a result, your skin will turn yellow, and your eyes might get yellowish hue in the whites.
This condition is known as Jaundice.
As mentioned, the condition occurs due to buildup of bile, which leads to increased levels of bilirubin (waste product) in the blood.
The gallbladder plays an important role in urine creation and excretion.
Therefore, it is logical to expect changes in urine due to gallbladder attack.
When you have gallstones, which are essentially a mixture of calcium salts, bile pigment, and cholesterol, your urine will turn a dark brown or dark yellow color.
Some patients also report deep brown or even maroon color.
For those of you that do not know, a healthy urine has a healthy shade of straw to yellow color, which signifies a hydrated system https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2074001-overview https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072534/.
Lack of appetite
As the pain and discomfort of gallbladder worsen, you will eventually experience lack of appetite.
It is normal, especially if you consider other symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
When you are nauseated, the last thing you want to do is eat something.
As the inflammation of the gallbladder worsens, the gallstone will completely block bile ducts, making digestion very painful.
And when it is painful to eat, most of us choose not to eat at all.
We talked how there might be digestion problems when you have gallbladder problems.
Diarrhea is one of the more frequent and common digestion problems.
As part of the symptoms, diarrhea, or frequent and explosive bowel movements can happen up to 4 times daily.
The symptoms are accompanied by pain that comes and goes. You will feel pain all over the stomach, not just in one spot.
You will also notice that your bowel movements will become light or chalky in color, and your stool might be lighter in weight and float.
Of course, the stools may be loose.
Diarrhea happens as result of insufficient bile.
When gallstones grow in size, they block the bile ducts and the color of the stool changes to pale or clay-like.
Bowel movements become explosive, up to 10 times per day, and they are loose and explosive.
We mentioned that fever might accompany some of the symptoms of gallbladder attacks.
But it is also a symptom on its own.
Fever, in this case, happens as a result of infection of the bile duct. Statistics show that one-third of patients with gallstones experience fever and chills.
Usually, gallbladder attack symptoms manifest as abdominal pain.
But the pain can also radiate towards your chest.
That is why gallbladder attack is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
The acid gets pushed up into the chest, and results in heart attack-like pain.
The pain usually happens after a meal, which indicates symptoms of a gallbladder attack, not a heart attack.
What is causing your gallbladder problems?
We talked at the beginning that the most common cause of attack is gallstones formed in the gallbladder https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/175667-clinical.
However, there are other potential problems.
Here are some of them.
- Inflammation of the gallbladder, a condition called cholecystitis https://www.slideshare.net/education4227/case-study-on-cholelithiasis. It can be both acute and chronic. The chronic inflammation is result of several untreated acute attacks. Eventually, inflammation may damage the gallbladder and hamper its ability to function properly
- Common bile duct stones, which are somewhat different than gallstones are also a cause of an attack. In most cases, common bile duct stones are actually gallstones that passed into the bile duct from the gallbladder. Health care professionals call them “secondary stones”
- There are also gallbladder diseases without stones, for example, acalculous gallbladder disease. You will experience the same gallbladder attack symptoms, but there are no stones in your gallbladder
- An infection may also develop in the bile duct, and these are called common bile duct infections. If found early, treatment is successful. However, if the infection is not diagnosed in its early stages, it can spread and become fatal
- When you do not treat gallstones immediately, they lead to a perforated gallbladder, which is actually a life-threatening condition https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3199620/. If the tear is not detected, the result may be a dangerous and widespread abdominal infection
- Gallbladder polyps are also a possible cause. Polyps are growths that develop. They are benign, and if they are small, you might not need to remove them. In most cases, they do not pose risk to your gallbladder and overall health, but large polyps may cause symptoms of an attack and may need to be surgically removed
- Last, but not least, we have gallbladder cancer https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3343155/. If polyps are not treated, and they grow, they will eventually develop into gallbladder cancer. This type of cancer is rare, but if not detected and treated, it can spread beyond the gallbladder.
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