Gallbladder infections are typically the result of the development of gallstones, small crystalline objects created when bile solidifies within the gallbladder. Most gallstone cases do not develop into an infection, however infection is known to occur when the stones become lodged in the small tubes leading from the gallbladder into the small intestine (bile ducts). The blocked ducts cause an inflammation in the gallbladder that may lead to an infection in addition to long-term damage to the gallbladder, pancreas or liver. Interpreting your symptoms and learning what causes gallbladder infections will help you work with your physician to complete a thorough medical investigation and create the right treatment plan.
Gallstones, also referred to as cholelithiasis, are the most common direct cause of gallbladder infections. While stones typically develop within the gallbladder itself, they may, on occasion, develop in the bile ducts. If gallstones are causing pain or infection, they are usually broken into smaller pieces by ultrasonic waves so they can travel through the bile ducts. If this procedure is not possible or complications exist, surgical removal of the gallbladder, known as cholecystectomy, may be necessary. Most gallstone sufferers do not experience any symptoms. Those who do have symptoms typically experience pain in the upper right abdomen and may have a fever that spikes. Another sign of infection due to gallstones is jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes. Symptoms that indicate the presence of gallstones include nausea, vomiting, abdominal fullness and clay-colored stools.
Acute cholecystitis is the medical term for an infection or inflammation of the gallbladder. This type of infection causes intense pain and fever that may last 12 hours or more. Pain from an acute cholecystitis episode is also located below the rib cage on the right side of the body. It may be triggered by a cough or other movement. Acute cholecystitis is also usually caused by gallstones. Patients should seek immediate medical attention. Antibiotic medications are usually prescribed for this type of infection. Should they become ineffective, gallbladder removal is generally the prescribed course of action.
Gallbladder infections are fairly common worldwide, particularly amongst middle-aged, overweight, Caucasian women who have been pregnant multiple times. Infections are likely to occur as a result of excess cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile, insufficient bile salt, or when the gallbladder does not empty properly due to a blocked bile duct.
Exams and Tests
The first step in gallbladder infection diagnosis is a physical exam during which the patient's abdomen is tested for tenderness. Should further testing be necessary for a proper diagnosis, the most common tests include blood tests, liver function tests and an abdominal CT scan.
In addition to antibiotic treatment to fight the infection, patients with gallbladder infections are advised to follow a high-fiber, low-fat diet as soon as they are able to tolerate food. Proper diet may help prevent future occurrences without a more invasive surgical intervention. In these cases, pain medicines may be prescribed to assist with pain management. Gallstone removal, or removal of the gallbladder itself, is advised should blockage or inflammation lead to recurring infections. Surgery prevents all future attacks of this nature. Emergency surgery is required if the common bile duct becomes inflamed or the infection does not respond to antibiotic treatment.