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Learning About Acute Cholecystitis

Gallstone in cystic duct

What is cholecystitis?

Cholecystitis (say "koh-lih-sis-TY-tus") is inflammation of the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores bile. Bile helps the body digest food. Normally, the bile flows from the gallbladder to the small intestine.

A gallstone stuck in the cystic duct is most often the cause of sudden (acute) cholecystitis. The cystic duct is the tube that carries the bile out of the gallbladder. The gallstone blocks the bile from leaving the gallbladder. This results in an irritated and swollen gallbladder.

The disease can also be caused by infection or trauma, such as an injury from a car crash.

Cholecystitis has to be treated right away. You will probably have to go to the hospital. Surgery is the usual treatment.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • Steady and severe pain in the upper right part of belly. This is the most common symptom. The pain can sometimes move to your back or right shoulder blade. It may last for more than 6 hours.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • A fever.

How is it treated?

The main way to treat this disease is surgery to remove the gallbladder. This surgery can often be done through small cuts (incisions) in the belly. This is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. In some cases, you may need a more extensive surgery.

You may need surgery as soon as possible. The doctor may try to reduce swelling and irritation in the gallbladder before removing it. You may be given fluids and antibiotics through an IV. You may also be given pain medicine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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