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Where does your stomach hurt when you have gallbladder problems?

If you’re experiencing stomach pain, especially in the upper right area of your abdomen, it could be a sign of a gallbladder issue. The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that sits just below your liver on the right side of your abdomen. It stores and concentrates bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver that helps break down fats. When you eat, the gallbladder contracts and releases bile into the small intestine through a duct called the common bile duct. This aids digestion. However, if something blocks the ducts leading from your gallbladder, it can cause a buildup of bile, pain, and potentially serious complications.

What is the most common symptom of gallbladder problems?

The most common symptom of gallbladder issues is pain in the upper right part of the abdomen, just below the ribs. This pain, referred to as biliary colic, occurs when gallstones blocking the cystic duct cause the gallbladder to swell and tense up. The pain is often described as cramping, dull, sharp, or even excruciating. It typically starts suddenly, lasts from minutes up to hours, and may radiate to your back or right shoulder blade. Pain from gallbladder issues tends to occur after eating a fatty meal. Other common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Fever
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Yellowing of skin or eyes (jaundice)

What causes gallbladder problems?

There are several conditions that can lead to gallbladder issues and abdominal pain:


Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder. They are the most common cause of gallbladder problems. Gallstones block the passageways of your gallbladder and prevent bile from flowing properly, leading to swelling, irritation, and pain. Risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Family history
  • Age over 40
  • Female gender
  • Certain ethnic backgrounds such as Native American or Mexican American
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease

Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)

Blocked bile flow and gallstones can also lead to inflammation and infection of your gallbladder. Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and intense pain in the upper right abdomen that lasts longer than a few hours.

Bile duct problems

Issues such as gallstones, scarring, pancreatic tumors, or narrowing of the common bile duct can obstruct or prevent bile from draining out of your gallbladder. This causes bile and pancreatic enzymes to back up into your gallbladder and pancreas, resulting in inflammation and abdominal pain.

Gallbladder polyps

Gallbladder polyps are growths that protrude from the inner gallbladder wall. While mostly noncancerous, large or fast-growing polyps can sometimes block bile drainage and cause intermittent abdominal pain.

When should you see a doctor for gallbladder pain?

It’s important to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms of gallbladder issues, such as:

  • Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Abdominal pain accompanied by fever, chills, or jaundice
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain lasting more than 5 hours
  • Frequent gallbladder pain, even if it seems to resolve on its own

While gallbladder attacks often resolve with pain management at home, the underlying condition needs to be properly diagnosed. Ignoring symptoms could allow potentially serious complications to develop, like infection, pancreatitis, gallbladder rupture, or bile duct injury. Seek emergency care if you experience:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever over 100°F (38°C)
  • Yellowish skin or eyes
  • Intense and constant abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting that prevents fluid intake

How is gallbladder pain diagnosed?

To diagnose gallbladder issues and abdominal pain, your doctor will start with a physical exam, take your medical history, and ask about your symptoms. They may press on your abdomen to check for tenderness and swelling. You may also need one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests to look for signs of infection or blockage
  • Ultrasound to visualize the gallbladder and check for gallstones or polyps
  • HIDA scan to evaluate gallbladder function and contraction
  • CT scan for detailed images if complications like perforation are suspected
  • MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography) to examine bile and pancreatic ducts
  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) to diagnose duct issues and remove gallstones

How can you treat and manage gallbladder pain at home?

For gallbladder attacks and mild abdominal discomfort, you can try these self-care steps while waiting to see a doctor:

  • Apply a warm compress to help ease pain and muscle tension.
  • Massage the upper right abdomen gently.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Avoid food and drink for a few hours until pain subsides.
  • Sip clear fluids like water, broth, or weak tea when symptoms improve.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Once gallbladder issues have been diagnosed, your doctor may recommend:

  • A low-fat diet to prevent attacks.
  • Medications to help digest fats or dissolve gallstones.
  • Surgery to remove gallstones or the gallbladder if necessary.

When is gallbladder removal surgery necessary?

If you have chronic gallbladder problems or frequent, severe attacks, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat the underlying condition and prevent complications. Reasons gallbladder removal may be necessary include:

  • Multiple gallstones
  • Very large gallstone(s) blocking ducts
  • Inflammation or infection of the gallbladder
  • Pancreatitis due to gallstones
  • Bile duct injury or gallstone complications
  • Gallbladder polyps
  • Failure of medical treatment to relieve symptoms

The most common surgery performed is called laparoscopic cholecystectomy. It involves removing the gallbladder with small incisions and instruments guided by a camera. Recovery time is usually faster than traditional open surgery. However, for some complex cases, open surgery may be required.

Can you live without your gallbladder?

Yes, it is possible to live a healthy life without a gallbladder. The gallbladder’s main function is to store and concentrate bile, not produce it. Once removed, bile will simply flow directly from your liver into your small intestine to aid digestion. However, some people do experience mild digestive changes after gallbladder removal such as:

  • More frequent, looser stools
  • Indigestion after fatty meals
  • Intolerance to greasy, spicy or gassy foods
  • Difficulty losing weight

While inconvenient for some, these effects are manageable with dietary modifications under the guidance of your doctor. With minimal long-term impacts, gallbladder removal is very safe when medically warranted.

When should you see a doctor after gallbladder removal?

It’s normal to have some mild abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea for a week or so after surgery as your body adjusts. Ongoing severe symptoms after gallbladder removal should prompt medical attention, however. Seek care if you experience:

  • Fever or chills
  • Unrelenting abdominal pain
  • Persistent nausea/vomiting
  • Yellowing of skin or eyes
  • Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
  • Bleeding, redness, or pus at incision sites
  • Difficulty passing stool or gas

These could signal problems like an infection, bile leakage, or injury to surrounding organs. Follow your surgeon’s instructions carefully post-operation and attend all follow-up appointments to ensure complications are caught early.


Gallbladder disease is a common source of abdominal pain, especially in the upper right quadrant. Gallstones, infection, inflammation, and polyps can obstruct normal bile flow and cause symptoms like cramping, nausea, and vomiting. Seek prompt medical care for evaluation and treatment of suspected gallbladder issues before they progress. While gallbladder removal may be necessary in severe cases, the surgery is very safe for restoring normal digestion when recommended by your physician.