Cholecystitis is inflammation of the
gallbladder, a small organ near the liver that plays a
part in digesting food. Normally, fluid called bile passes out of the
gallbladder on its way to the small intestine. If the flow of bile is blocked,
it builds up inside the gallbladder, causing swelling, pain, and possible
gallstone stuck in the cystic duct, a tube that carries bile from the gallbladder,
is most often the cause of sudden (acute) cholecystitis. The
gallstone blocks fluid from passing out of the
gallbladder. This results in an irritated and swollen gallbladder. Infection or
trauma, such as an injury from a car accident, can also cause cholecystitis.
cholecystitis, though rare, is most often seen in critically ill people in
hospital intensive care units. In these cases, there are no gallstones.
Complications from another severe illness, such as HIV or diabetes, cause the
Long-term (chronic) cholecystitis is another form of
cholecystitis. It occurs when the gallbladder remains swollen over time,
causing the walls of the gallbladder to become thick and hard.
The most common symptom of
cholecystitis is pain in your
upper right abdomen that can sometimes move around to your back or right
shoulder blade. Other symptoms include:
Older people may not have fever or pain. Their only
symptom may be a tender area in the abdomen.
cholecystitis starts when you describe your symptoms
to your doctor. Next is a physical exam. Your doctor will carefully feel your
right upper abdomen to look for tenderness. You may have blood drawn and an
ultrasound, a test that uses sound waves to create a
picture of your gallbladder. Ultrasound may show gallstones, thickening of
the gallbladder wall, extra fluid, and other signs of cholecystitis. This test
also allows doctors to check the size and shape of your gallbladder.
You could also have a gallbladder scan, a
nuclear scanning test that checks how well your
gallbladder is working. It can also help find blockage in the tubes (bile
ducts) that lead from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine
Treatment for cholecystitis
will depend on your symptoms and your general health. People who have
gallstones but don't have any symptoms may need no treatment. For mild cases,
treatment includes bowel rest, fluids and antibiotics given through a vein, and
The main treatment for acute cholecystitis is
surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). Often this surgery can be
done through small incisions in the abdomen (laparoscopic cholecystectomy),
but sometimes it requires a more extensive operation. Your doctor may try to
reduce swelling and irritation in the gallbladder before removing it.
Sometimes acute cholecystitis is caused by one or more gallstones getting stuck in the main tube leading to the intestine, called the
common bile duct. Treatment may involve an
endoscopic procedure (endoscopic retrograde
cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP) to remove the stones in the common bile duct
before the gallbladder is removed.
In rare cases of chronic cholecystitis, you may also
receive medicine that dissolves gallstones over a period of time.
The American Gastroenterological Association is a
society of doctors who specialize in the digestive system
(gastroenterologists). This Web site can help you find a gastroenterologist in
your area. They also have patient information on many gastrointestinal diseases
The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy is a group of doctors who have special training in using endoscopy to look at the digestive tract. On the website you can find a doctor in your area who does these procedures. The website also has patient education videos and patient information about endoscopic procedures.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and
Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. It
conducts and supports research on many of the most serious diseases affecting
public health, particularly the diseases of internal medicine. NIDDK sponsors
the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC).
It has information about diseases of the kidneys and urologic system for people
with these diseases and their families, health professionals, and the
Other Works Consulted
Friedman LS (2012). Liver, biliary tract, and pancreas disorders. In SJ McPhee, MA Papadakis, eds., 2012 Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 51st ed., pp. 644–698. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Halpin V, Gupta A (2011). Acute cholecystitis, search date April 2011. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Persley KM, Jain R (2008).
Gallstones and biliary tract disease. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds.,
ACP Medicine, section 4, chap. 6. Hamilton,
ON: BC Decker.
July 10, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
& Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
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