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Cholecystitis: Symptoms and Outcomes

Cholecystitis, which is also known as “gallbladder disease”, occurs when an individual’s gallbladder becomes inflamed. According to The Mayo Clinic, this inflammation is usually caused by gallstones, which block the tube through which bile is usually released. The buildup is responsible for the inflammation. Other sources of gallbladder inflammation include injury and infection.(Mayo Clinic Staff, 2009)

Signs and Symptoms

According to The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), only 10% of gallstone cases cause any recognizable symptoms.  Yet some symptoms are very pronounced. The most common of these is called biliary pain, which consists of a “gripping” or “gnawing” pain in the patient’s abdominal area. Some patients also feel pain in their back or behind their breastbones. UMMC also suggests that pain from cholecystitis is distinct from certain other causes of abdominal pain, because it often does not subside with changes in position or the consumption of over-the-counterpain relievers. Gallbladder attacks sometimes occur after the consumption of fatty foods and often wake patients when they are sleeping(Gallstones and gallbladder disease - Symptoms, 2009).

According to The Mayo Clinic other signs and symptoms include vomiting and nausea, sweating, a tender abdomen, a smaller appetite, chills, fever, bloating, and, in the case of chronic cholecystitis, chronic diarrhea. Furthermore, if a gall stone gets stuck in the common bile duct, patients can experience dark urine, light stools, jaundice, rapid heartbeat, and a drop in blood pressure, in addition to the symptoms mentioned above. These are a sign of a more serious condition(Mayo Clinic Staff, 2009).

Diagnostic Tests

According to The Mayo Clinic, there are three main procedures by which cholecystitis can be diagnosed. First, there are blood tests, which can determine whether or not a patient has elevated levels of white blood cells or bilirubin or the presence of alkaline phosphatase or serum aminotransferase. The presence of any of these things, therefore, indicates that there may be something wrong with the gallbladder.According to The Mayo Clinic, a high white blood cell count indicates the presence of an infection. Meanwhile says the clinic, bilirubin is a pigment that is stored in gallbladder and released through bile, alkaline phosphatase is generally in higher concentration in the liver and bile ducts, and serum aminotransferase is an enzyme generally found in the liver.(Tests and diagnosis, 2009)

In addition to blood tests, imaging devices, including CT scans and abdominal ultrasounds can be used to look for signs of gallstones or inflammation. Finally,Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scans can be used to take pictures of the gallbladder, liver, biliary tract and small intestine, to reveal any blockages in the bile duct.(Tests and diagnosis, 2009)


In some cases, Cholecystitis can lead to tissue damage, tears in the gallbladder and serious – even fatal infections. The most common cure for the disease is the removal of the gallbladder. Surgery to remove the gallbladder can usually be done laparoscopically, and tend to only take two to three hours. The surgery usually has few complications and is often an outpatient surgery. Yet, it does entail the risk of death. Some patients cannot have laparoscopic surgery, due to factors including obesity, prior surgery or abdominal scarring. These patients often undergo open surgery. Recovery time after a successful gallbladder surgery is usually one to two weeks(Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, 2004)

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