Your gallbladder is a helpful organ housed in the upper right portion of your abdomen, and it aids in the digestive process by storing and releasing bile to aid in the digestive process. Bile flows out of small bile ducts when food needs to be broken down, but if blockages develop in these bile ducts and the bile can’t be released as needed, it can trigger what’s known as a gallbladder attack. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at the signs of a gallbladder attack, and we explain what you should do if you suspect you’re dealing with an issue with your gallbladder.
What Does A Gallbladder Attack Feel Like?
Before we dive into the signs of a gallbladder attack, let’s explain why one might occur in the first place. Bile is composed of a number of compounds, like water, salts, fats, proteins, cholesterol and bilirubin. If you have a poor diet or certain genetic factors, your bile could eventually start to contain too much cholesterol or bilirubin. These substances can actually harden into tiny formations called gallstones.
Oftentimes these gallstones are microscopic and can still pass through the bile ducts and are eventually eliminated by your body. However, if larger gallstone deposits form, they can get wedged in the thin bile ducts and end up blocking the flow of bile through that duct. This blockage can cause a gallbladder attack.
A gallbladder attack can present with a number of different symptoms based on the size of the blockage and how quickly the gallstone is passed, but the most common signs of a gallbladder attack include:
- Pain in the upper right abdomen
- Difficulty breathing fully
- A yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Chest of upper back discomfort
What Should You Do If You’re Having A Gallbladder Attack?
Most gallbladder attacks alleviate within 15 minutes to a couple of hours, but you should seek medical attention if your gallbladder attack is causing severe pain. Once it’s passed, it’s also a good idea to set up an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist like Dr. Bhatti. He’ll listen to you describe your symptoms, conduct a physical exam, ask you a few questions of his own and then he may conduct an imaging exam to pinpoint the size and location of the blockage.
If there is no need for a major treatment, Dr. Bhatti will talk to you about some ways to prevent and treat minor gallstones. These typically involve simple tweaks to your diet and exercise regimen. Slowly losing weight, eating more fiber, lowering your cholesterol and increasing your exercise habits can all help to keep gallbladder attacks at bay.
In the event that your gallbladder attack is severe or the imaging tests show that you have significant bile duct blockages, your gastrointestinal surgeon will talk to you about a more invasive option. As we mentioned in the intro, your gallbladder is a helpful organ, but it’s not an essential organ. Instead of trying to unblock all the tiny ducts, the most common treatment for severe blockages is to simply remove the entire gallbladder. You’ll no longer have the storage tank for bile, rather, bile will go directly from your liver to your intestines to help break down food.
This means that your body will have to produce bile when needed instead of just releasing reserves when the digestion process begins. It takes a little bit of an adjustment to understand how to eat so that you aren’t uncomfortable during digestion (smaller meals and eating slower are helpful), but eventually your eating habits will become second nature and your body will understand how to best produce bile when eating and digesting.
So if you’re experiencing upper abdomen discomfort, talk to your gastrointestinal specialist about ways to improve your gallbladder health. We’d be happy to help you avoid a gallbladder removal, but we can also perform that operation should it become necessary. Reach out to Dr. Bhatti and his team today for more information on all things gallbladder.