Gallbladder disease

Last reviewed: April 18, 2024

Gallbladder disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the gallbladder, a small pear-shaped organ situated under the liver. The main function of the gallbladder is to store bile, which is produced by the liver, and then pass it through a duct to the small intestine for fat digestion.

The majority of gallbladder diseases are caused by inflammation, called cholecystitis, that occurs when gallstones block the duct leading to the small intestine. This blockage results in the accumulation of bile, which can lead to tissue necrosis or gangrene over time.

Gallstones affect up to 15% of the population, and around 20% of those affected experience symptoms or complications. Typically, gallbladder disease is strongly associated with the presence of gallstones.

Gallbladder diseases include

Gallstones (cholelithiasis): While gallstones are the primary cause of gallbladder diseases, they often do not produce any symptoms. These stones are typically benign and are formed from surplus bile components, primarily cholesterol, which accumulate in the gallbladder. However, they can cause inflammation by obstructing the flow of bile through the bile duct.

Cholecystitis (inflammation): The primary symptom of gallbladder disease is cholecystitis, which carries its own set of complications. Inflammation of the gallbladder can signal underlying issues such as infection, obstruction, or, in rare cases, cancer. Prolonged swelling of the gallbladder can result in tissue scarring, gangrene, and eventual rupture.

Biliary dyskinesia: Biliary dyskinesia, a functional disorder affecting the gallbladder, poses a significant health concern. It manifests as an impaired ability of the gallbladder to carry out its functions effectively, leading to the reflux of bile and subsequent chronic inflammation. This condition is often attributed to issues with nerve or muscle function.

Gangrene: Chronic cholecystitis can lead to the most severe outcome, which is gallbladder gangrene. When the gallbladder becomes chronically inflamed, it can result in tissue death. These dead tissues can rupture or detach at any time, posing a significant risk. If the gallbladder wall becomes perforated due to persistent swelling, it can lead to infection and peritonitis, which can put the entire abdominal cavity at risk. Therefore, it is crucial to take cholecystitis seriously and seek appropriate medical attention.

Gallbladder cancer: Gallbladder or bile duct cancer is a rare but serious condition that can pose a significant threat to health. Unfortunately, symptoms tend to appear only at an advanced stage, which makes it easy to miss them. It’s important to note that not all growths or tumors in the gallbladder are malignant. However, it is recommended to surgically remove larger tumors for optimal management of the condition.

Cholangiopathy: Cholangiopathy is a disorder of the bile ducts which starts with the swelling of the bile ducts and cholangitis. This swelling can lead to blockage, infection, or autoimmune conditions like primary biliary cholangitis. As time passes, it can cause the bile ducts to narrow and scar, leading to the return of bile to the gallbladder and liver.


Healthcare providers may suggest the following tests to pinpoint the exact cause of the condition:

Having gallstones increases the likelihood of developing gallbladder disease. Common risk factors for gallbladder disease include:

Risk factors:



While certain risk factors for gallbladder disease, like age and sex, are beyond control, diet plays a pivotal role in gallstone development. According to research from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), incorporating healthy fats and fiber-rich foods into one’s diet can help prevent gallstones.

By including foods such as whole grains (like brown rice and whole wheat bread), fish, and olive oil in your diet, you are taking a positive step towards reducing the risk of gallstones. Conversely, refined grains (such as sugary cereals, white rice, bread, pasta, and sweets) pose higher risks for gallbladder disease.

Early diagnosis and treatment of gallbladder disorders can mitigate significant complications. It’s advisable to seek medical advice promptly upon experiencing any signs or symptoms of gallbladder disease.

Work cited

Last reviewed and updated by on Apr 18, 2024

Dr. Jessica is a registered nurse and educator with 20 years of experience in critical care emergency nursing, specializing in patient care, education, and evidence-based practice. She holds multiple certifications and serves as a Patient Safety Coordinator.

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