Describing Gallbladder Pain
As I often tell patients, it seems that gallbladder pain is divided into about 80% “typical” type symptoms and the other 20% of those suffering from gallbladder pain have at least some element of “atypical” gallbladder symptoms.
Typical Gallbladder Symptoms of Pain
“Typical” gallbladder symptoms of experiencing sharp or a dull ache located in the front or right side of your abdomen just under the rib cage occur most frequently. This is in the right upper quadrant of your abdomen, where your gallbladder is located. However, the gallbladder is located a bit further back inside the abdomen (towards your back) than most people suspect. Therefore, other typical symptoms include pain in the right flank (more on your right side) or often feeling the pain as back pain. When felt in the back, the pain is usually more to the right side, often felt just beneath the right scapula or shoulder blade.
However, just like some experience their gallbladder pain within the mid abdomen, some of those with back pain may feel the pain in the mid back area. Nausea and possibly vomiting are frequently associated, but may not occur in some.
Another “typical” feature is to experience the discomfort 15 to 45 minutes after eating food with a high fat content or just fat containing food. Most people realize that fried foods, ice cream, foods with dairy such as cheese (pizza anyone?), or many desserts can cause a gallbladder attack.
However even those foods known for “good fats” such as avocados, nuts, or olive oil can cause an attack as well. Even for patients trying to eat a low fat diet such as enjoying a salad, the salad dressing frequently contains oil which can stimulate the gallbladder.
Crampy abdominal pain and loose stool occur often just following a gallbladder attack.
Atypical Symptoms of Gallbladder Pain
“Atypical” symptoms of gallbladder pain may be only 15%, but we see them fairly often just due to the high number of people who have gallbladder problems. One of the most frequent atypical symptoms is actually to have no pain whatsoever, but nausea, or nausea and vomiting, alone. Chest pain, especially on the right lower side of the chest, frequently occurs, often with other, more typical symptoms of gallbladder pain.
Another atypical symptom is to have loose stool (sometimes explosive) after eating, but not necessarily associated with pain which can be due to gallbladder dysfunction.
Left sided abdominal pain, usually just below the left rib cage does occur due to a bad gallbladder in some patients and this particular location can be the most difficult to diagnose as a bad gallbladder. Many of these patients undergo un-needed testing such as CT scans, upper and lower endoscopies (upper scope and colonoscope testing) as providers do not consider the gallbladder as a possible source of the left sided abdominal pain since the gallbladder is situated on the right side and most often causes symptoms there.
In these patients, it is almost as if they feel their gallbladder in a “mirror type position” as those that have the more usual symptoms. If you are experiencing left sided abdominal pain under your rib cage after meals and especially after fatty meals you should add a gallbladder work up to your diagnostic tests.
When Should You Contact a General Surgeon?
Gallbladder pain can be very painful. We can help. Schedule an appointment if you think you might need gallbladder surgery. You can contact us at 208.321.4790 or submit a contact form to request a gallbladder consultation.