The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac located beneath the liver. It stores bile, a fluid that is produced by the liver and aids in digestion. When bile is needed, as when people eat, the gallbladder contracts, pushing bile through the bile ducts into the small intestine. (See also Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders The liver produces bile, a greenish yellow, thick, sticky fluid. Bile aids digestion by making cholesterol, fats, and fat-soluble vitamins easier to absorb from the intestine. Bile also helps... read more and figure .)
Acalculous biliary pain is most common among young women.
This disorder may develop when bile (produced by the gallbladder) does not pass through the ducts into the small intestine as it usually does. Passage of bile may be slowed or blocked because
Gallstones Gallstones Gallstones are collections of solid material (predominantly crystals of cholesterol) in the gallbladder. The liver can secrete too much cholesterol, which is carried with bile to the gallbladder... read more , which may be too small to be detected by ultrasonography, are present.
For unknown reasons, the gallbladder does not empty normally.
The biliary tract or small intestine is overly sensitive.
The ring-shaped muscle between the common bile and pancreatic ducts and small intestine (sphincter of Oddi) malfunctions.
Gallstones may have blocked the ducts, then passed through before they were detected.
Doctors suspect this disorder if people have biliary pain but ultrasonography shows no stones.
The best way to confirm the diagnosis is unclear. Usually, ultrasonography or endoscopic ultrasonography Ultrasonography Imaging tests of the liver, gallbladder, and biliary tract include ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography... read more is done. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography Imaging tests of the liver, gallbladder, and biliary tract include ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography... read more (ERCP) may sometimes be done. Occasionally, cholescintigraphy, a type of radionuclide imaging Radionuclide (Radioisotope) Scanning Imaging tests of the liver, gallbladder, and biliary tract include ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography... read more , is done after people are given a drug that causes the gallbladder to contract. If the gallbladder does not fully contract, removing the gallbladder may cause symptoms to resolve.
Surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is sometimes done using a flexible viewing tube called a laparoscope, though it may not relieve symptoms. After small incisions are made in the abdomen, the laparoscope and surgical instruments are inserted through the incisions. Doctors then use instruments to remove the gallbladder.
Cholecystectomy may also cause symptoms to resolve if they were caused by gallstones that are too small to be detected by ultrasonography.
Medication therapies have no proven benefit.
The following English-language resources may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.
International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD): A reliable resource that helps people with gastrointestinal disorders manage their health.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK): Comprehensive information on how the digestive system works and links to related topics on everything from research to treatment options.