Skip to Content

Can you heal an inflamed gallbladder?

What is a gallbladder and what does it do?

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that sits just under the liver on the upper right side of the abdomen. The gallbladder’s main function is to store and concentrate bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver.

Bile helps the body digest fats. After a meal, the gallbladder contracts and releases bile through a tube called the common bile duct. The bile travels to the small intestine where it helps break down fats from food.

The gallbladder itself doesn’t have many nerves and can’t feel pain. But gallbladder problems can cause pain in the upper right abdomen.

What is gallbladder inflammation?

Gallbladder inflammation is called cholecystitis (pronounced “ko-luh-sis-TY-tis”). It means the gallbladder walls have become irritated and inflamed.

There are two main types of cholecystitis:

Acute cholecystitis

This happens suddenly (acutely) and causes intense pain and tenderness in the upper right abdomen. It’s usually caused by a gallstone blocking the cystic duct, the tube through which bile flows out of the gallbladder.

With acute cholecystitis, bile backs up in the gallbladder, causing swelling and irritation. If left untreated, it can lead to infection or even perforation (rupture) of the gallbladder.

Chronic cholecystitis

This is a long-term (chronic) inflammation of the gallbladder. It’s often caused by repeated attacks of acute cholecystitis. With chronic cholecystitis, the gallbladder walls thicken and harden over time, reducing the amount of bile that can be stored.

Chronic cholecystitis causes less severe symptoms than acute cholecystitis. But it can still cause pain and digestive problems.

What are the symptoms of gallbladder inflammation?

Common symptoms of an inflamed gallbladder include:

  • Severe pain in the upper right or upper middle abdomen
  • Pain that worsens with deep breathing or movement
  • Pain that radiates to the back or right shoulder
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Clay-colored stools

With chronic cholecystitis, symptoms may come and go. They include:

  • Mild abdominal discomfort
  • Nausea and indigestion, especially after fatty meals
  • Gas and bloating

What causes gallbladder inflammation?

Gallstones are the main cause of acute cholecystitis. Gallstones form when cholesterol and other bile components crystallize and harden into stone-like deposits.

About 80% of people with gallstones don’t have symptoms. But in some cases, gallstones block the cystic duct and cause a gallbladder attack.

Other potential causes of gallbladder inflammation include:

  • Gallbladder polyps – benign growths that block bile flow
  • Tumors obstructing the gallbladder
  • Bacterial infections
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Certain medications, such as birth control pills

Chronic gallbladder inflammation is often caused by repeated acute attacks. Risk factors for chronic cholecystitis include:

  • Obesity
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Older age
  • Female gender
  • Family history of gallstones
  • Certain ethnic backgrounds, such as Native American, Hispanic, and Scandinavian

How is gallbladder inflammation diagnosed?

To diagnose gallbladder inflammation, doctors typically:

  • Take a full medical history and ask about symptoms
  • Perform a physical exam of the abdomen to check for tenderness
  • Order blood tests to look for signs of infection
  • Perform an ultrasound to look for gallstones or blockages
  • Order a HIDA scan to check gallbladder function
  • Do other imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI

With acute cholecystitis, diagnosis is usually straightforward based on symptoms, exam, and imaging showing gallstones.

Chronic cholecystitis can be trickier to diagnose. The findings on ultrasound or other tests may be subtler. Doctors may need to do additional testing to rule out other possible causes.

Can you heal gallbladder inflammation without surgery?

For mild or uncomplicated acute cholecystitis, doctors sometimes prescribe:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Pain relievers
  • IV fluids for dehydration

With this conservative approach, the gallbladder can often heal and recover in a few days without surgery.

However, for moderate or severe acute cholecystitis, urgent surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is usually recommended. Surgery helps resolve the blockage before serious complications develop.

For chronic cholecystitis, non-surgical treatment options include:

  • A low-fat diet to reduce symptoms
  • Medications to help digest fats
  • Oral dissolution therapy with ursodiol to slowly dissolve gallstones over time

However, non-surgical treatments have limited effectiveness for chronic inflammation. Most people with chronic cholecystitis ultimately need surgery for definitive treatment.

Can natural remedies help heal the gallbladder?

Some people try natural or alternative therapies to ease gallbladder symptoms, such as:

  • Herbal remedies like milk thistle, globe artichoke, or turmeric
  • Probiotics to improve gut health
  • Castor oil packs placed over the liver
  • Peppermint or ginger tea to reduce nausea
  • Acupuncture

There is limited evidence that these options can treat underlying gallbladder problems. But some people find them helpful for symptom relief.

It’s best to discuss natural remedies with your doctor first to make sure they are safe for you. Do not rely on unproven therapies alone to treat gallbladder disease.

What is the best diet for an inflamed gallbladder?

Diet modifications are often recommended for gallbladder inflammation. A low-fat diet can help ease symptoms by reducing the amount of work for the gallbladder.

Tips for an anti-inflammation gallbladder diet:

  • Limit fatty, greasy, fried, and processed foods
  • Avoid or reduce butter, cream, cheese, eggs, and meat
  • Choose lean proteins like fish, chicken, beans
  • Increase fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Drink plenty of fluids like water and broths
  • Avoid sugary and refined carbs
  • Take a daily omega-3 fish oil supplement
  • Limit alcohol intake

Also try to eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than three large meals per day. Eat slowly and chew foods thoroughly.

After an acute gallbladder attack, stick to clear liquids and bland foods for a day or two to rest the gallbladder. Then gradually reintroduce other foods.

What supplements can help heal the gallbladder?

Some supplements may aid gallbladder health and healing. But check with your doctor first since some supplements can interact with medications or cause side effects.

Supplements for gallbladder support may include:

  • Milk thistle: Helps protect the liver and gallbladder. May reduce inflammation.
  • Turmeric or curcumin: Anti-inflammatory properties may decrease gallbladder irritation.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Can help reduce inflammation. Best obtained from fish oil.
  • Vitamin C: Acts as an antioxidant. Some small studies show it may reduce pain.
  • Phosphatidylcholine: A component of bile. May help prevent gallstones.
  • Dandelion root: Thought to stimulate bile flow and help cleanse the gallbladder.

There is limited clinical evidence that these supplements treat gallbladder problems. But some people find them beneficial. Always start with low doses and watch for side effects.

What are lifestyle tips for a healthier gallbladder?

Making certain lifestyle changes may help prevent gallbladder inflammation and attacks:

  • Maintain a healthy weight – obesity is a major risk factor
  • Follow a low-fat diet with minimal processed foods
  • Exercise regularly to aid weight loss and improve health
  • Avoid crash diets and rapid weight loss
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking – tobacco is linked to gallbladder disease
  • Control other medical conditions like diabetes

Also be aware of your risk factors. Those with a family history of gallstones may need to be extra cautious with diet and lifestyle. Women going through hormonal changes like pregnancy or menopause may need to take preventive measures as well.

When should you see a doctor for gallbladder inflammation?

Seek prompt medical care if you have any symptoms of acute cholecystitis like severe abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, or jaundice. This is considered a medical emergency.

You should also see a doctor for:

  • Ongoing milder gallbladder symptoms
  • Pain that keeps returning periodically
  • Nausea, gas, or indigestion after meals
  • A family history of gallbladder problems

Chronic gallbladder inflammation requires treatment to prevent long-term complications like gallstone pancreatitis.

See your doctor promptly if natural remedies and lifestyle changes don’t adequately manage your symptoms. Surgery to remove the gallbladder may be necessary.

Can you live without a gallbladder?

Yes, it is possible to live a normal, healthy life without a gallbladder. The gallbladder’s main role is to store and release bile. But the liver still produces bile even after gallbladder removal.

Most people adjust well and see their symptoms dramatically improve after cholecystectomy surgery. There is very little risk to removing the gallbladder.

However, some people develop diarrhea or indigestion after gallbladder removal. This occurs because bile flows more constantly into the intestines instead of being stored.

Making dietary adjustments like limiting fats, eating smaller meals, and taking bile salts medication helps manage these issues. With proper management, complications after gallbladder surgery are uncommon.

Key points

  • Gallbladder inflammation, called cholecystitis, often results from gallstones blocking the bile ducts.
  • Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and digestive issues.
  • Mild cases may resolve with antibiotics and other medical treatments. But severe or chronic cholecystitis usually requires gallbladder removal surgery.
  • Making dietary changes, losing weight, and taking supplements may help reduce gallbladder inflammation.
  • See a doctor promptly if you have any symptoms of cholecystitis, as prompt treatment is important.

The bottom line

While you may be able to manage mild or intermittent gallbladder inflammation with medical therapies, severe or chronic inflammation often requires surgery to remove the gallbladder. This eliminates the underlying problem so the condition does not continue to recur.

Following a low-fat diet and making other lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of developing gallstones and gallbladder disease in the first place. But once significant inflammation develops, surgery gives the best results for long-term healing.