Cholecystitis

Inflammation of the gallbladder, usually associated with gallstones blocking the flow of the digestive fluid bile

  • More common over the age of 40; rare in childhood
  • Twice as common in females
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Being overweight and a high-fat diet are risk factors

Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder wall. It usually occurs when the outlet from the gallbladder, through which the digestive liquid bile is normally released, becomes blocked by a gallstone. Bile becomes trapped in the gallbladder, causing inflammation of its walls. A bacterial infection may then develop in the stagnant bile. In rare cases, cholecystitis occurs when there are no gallstones present.

Anyone with gallstones is at risk of developing cholecystitis. Gallstones are more common in people over 40 and in women and sometimes run in families. Gallstones are associated with obesity, a high-fat diet, and blood disorders, such as sickle-cell disease.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of cholecystitis can vary in severity. They usually develop over a period of hours and may include:

  • Constant pain in the right side of the abdomen, just below the ribcage.

  • Pain in the right shoulder.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Fever and chills.

Sometimes, jaundice, causing yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, may develop. Symptoms often improve over a few days and disappear after about a week. However, in some cases symptoms become progressively worse and need urgent treatment.

Rarely, bacterial infection may cause the gallbladder to perforate. This allows irritant bile to leak into the abdomen, resulting in peritonitis, a serious condition in which the peritoneum (the membrane lining the wall of the abdomen) becomes inflamed. Cholecystitis may also be accompanied by acute pancreatitis, in which there is sudden inflammation of the pancreas.

What might be done?

Your doctor may suspect cholecystitis from your symptoms and after a physical examination. If so, he or she may arrange for you to have ultrasound scanning or CT scanning to confirm the diagnosis and to indicate the position of any gallstones.

What is the treatment?

If your symptoms are mild, you may be treated at home with antibiotics and painkillers. If your symptoms are severe, you will need treatment in hospital with intravenous fluids, painkillers, and antibiotics. You may have a tube passed into your nose and down to your stomach to remove the contents by suction. This procedure stops digestive juices from entering the duodenum, which would cause the gallbladder to contract.

Although cholecystitis often subsides after treatment with antibiotics, surgery to remove the gallbladder is usually recommended to prevent the condition from recurring. Surgery is always necessary if complications arise, such as perforation of the gallbladder.

What is the prognosis?

Although cholecystitis often subsides after treatment with antibiotics, surgery to remove the gallbladder is usually recommended to prevent the condition from recurring. Surgery is always necessary if complications arise, such as perforation of the gallbladder.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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