What is Gallbladder Disease?

What is Gallbladder Disease?

Gallbladder disease is a term used to describe several conditions, including inflammation, infection, or blockages that may affect the gallbladder. Gallstones and cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation) are the most common gallbladder diseases. With gallstones, you may have pain, bloating, food intolerance, and other discomforts that interfere with your ability to enjoy life fully.

Types of Gallbladder Diseases


Many different conditions are commonly associated with gallbladder disease.

  • Gallstones form when substances in the bile, or the blood, form hard particles that block bile duct passageways. Gallstones can vary from a grain of sand to a golf ball size. Gallstones can also form when the gallbladder doesn't empty completely or often enough.
  • Acute cholecystitis is gallbladder inflammation from a gallstone lodged in the neck of the gallbladder, resulting in pain in the upper abdomen that flares up after a meal. This may cause the gallbladder also to become infected.
  • Choledocholithiasis is a condition caused by stones lodged in the bile ducts. This blockage prevents bile from traveling between the intestines and the liver, which may lead to a life-threatening infection of your bile ducts and liver.

Signs & Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease


Upper abdominal pain is the main symptom of gallbladder disease.

Other symptoms of gallbladder problems include:

Different gallbladder diseases present with different symptoms, which include:

  • Gallstones are hard, pebble-like cholesterol or bilirubin stones that develop in your gallbladder. They are the leading cause of gallbladder disease and may block your bile ducts causing sudden pain known as a gallbladder attack.
  • Biliary colic is an intense, dull ache in the upper right side of the abdomen or in the upper middle abdomen. The pain can sometimes travel to the back or right shoulder blade. The pain caused by biliary colic can be triggered by eating a meal that's high in fat.
  • Acute cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder. The main symptom is a sudden sharp pain in the upper right side of the abdomen that spreads toward the right shoulder. Unlike biliary colic, this pain lasts for hours and does not typically go away without treatment.
  • Chronic cholecystitis or dysfunctional gallbladder occurs due to swelling and irritation of the gallbladder, continuing with repeated attacks over weeks or months. Symptoms include severe pain in your upper right or center abdomen that can spread to your right shoulder or back and tenderness over your stomach when touched.
  • Choledocholithiasis occurs when at least one gallstone is present in the common bile duct. Symptoms may or may not occur unless the gallstones cause a blockage, at which time the obstruction can cause severe pain and inflammation.

What Causes Gallbladder Disease?


Gallstones are the most common cause of gallbladder disease. Unfortunately, doctors are unsure what causes the formation of gallstones. But research suggests that excess cholesterol and bilirubin in the bile is a contributing factor, and the gallbladder not emptying correctly is another factor.

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

Gallbladder disease carries many risk factors, some of which are lifestyle based.

  • Being sedentary
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Eating a high-cholesterol diet
  • Losing weight too quickly
  • Having diabetes
  • Eating a low-fiber diet
  • Being female
  • Being age 40 or older
  • Being a Native American
  • Being a Hispanic of Mexican origin
  • Being pregnant
  • Having a family history of gallstones
  • Having sickle cell anemia or leukemia
  • Digestive conditions affect how nutrients are absorbed.
  • Taking medications that contain estrogens, such as oral contraceptives and hormone therapy drugs
  • Having liver disease



Many complications may arise as a result of gallbladder disease. Some difficulties can have potential long-term consequences.

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder can occur if a gallstone is lodged in the neck of the gallbladder causing gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis).
  • Blockage of the pancreatic duct can occur if gallstones block the pancreatic duct, leading to pancreas inflammation (Pancreatitis). Pancreatitis causes intense, constant abdomen abdominal pain, which requires hospitalization.
  • Individuals with a history of gallstones are at an increased risk of developing gallbladder cancer. The good news is that the likelihood of developing gallbladder cancer is minuscule.
  • Inflammation of the bile ducts or a blockage of the common bile duct. Gallstones may block the bile ducts restricting bile from flowing from the liver to the small intestine, causing severe pain, jaundice, and infection.



You can reduce the chance of developing gallbladder disease by following a healthy diet and lifestyle.

  • Stick to regular daily mealtimes. Skipping meals or not eating for an extended period can increase the risk of developing gallstones.
  • Rapid weight Loss. Losing weight too quickly increases the risk of developing gallstones. Following a slow and steady weight loss of 1 or 2 pounds per week is suggested.
  • Eat more high-fiber foods. Eat more fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain a healthy digestive system.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and being overweight increases the risk of developing gallstones. But maintaining a wellness routine that includes a nutritious diet and physical activity will help to maintain a healthy body weight.
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Gallbladder Disease Care

If you're experiencing symptoms of gallbladder disease, seek treatment by scheduling an appointment with our treatment team at NewYork-Presbyterian. Our healthcare team includes gastroenterologists, interventional endoscopists, surgeons, nurses, and a host of other professionals who will work to provide the most effective therapy for you.

In addition to gallstone disease and cholecystitis, our team treats other gallbladder and bile duct disorders, such as biliary colic, gallstone pancreatitis, and cholangitis. Call us today to schedule an appointment.