What is Acute Cholecystitis?

Acute cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, beneath your liver that helps your body digest fat.

Gallstones are the main cause of cholecystitis by blocking the tube that leads out of the gallbladder. This results in a buildup of bile that leads to inflammation. Other causes of include bile duct problems and tumors.

This condition can become chronic if it persists for a prolonged period of time or if you are having recurring symptoms from the inflammation. If left untreated, cholecystitis can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening complications, such as a gallbladder rupture.

Women get gallstones more often than men and also have a higher risk of developing acute cholecystitis.

Risk increases with age in both men and women, although the reason is unclear. The risk is also higher for people of Scandinavian, Native American, and Hispanic descent.

What are the Symptoms of Acute Cholecystitis?

The most common sign that you are suffering from acute cholecystitis is abdominal pain that lasts for several hours. It can be a sharp pain or dull cramps.

Other signs and symptoms of cholecystitis may include:

  • Severe pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Pain that radiates from to your right shoulder or back
  • Tenderness over your abdomen when it’s touched
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

The signs and symptoms of acute cholecystitis often occur after a meal, especially a large or very fatty meal.

Diagnosing Acute Cholecystitis

Acute cholecystitis has symptoms that resemble other illnesses, so your doctor will have to review your medical history and check your abdomen for swelling or tender areas.

They may also order additional tests, such as:

  • Abdominal ultrasounds. The most commonly ordered imaging test used to diagnose cholecystitis.
  • Hepatobiliary scintigraphy. A procedure that creates an image of the upper portion of your small intestine, liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts.
  • Cholangiography. In which dye is injected into your bile ducts to show the gallbladder and bile ducts on an X-ray.
  • CT scans. Computerized images used to create images of your internal organs.


First, it is very important to remember to always see a doctor if you are experiencing severe, unexplained abdominal pain. If you’re diagnosed with cholecystitis, you’ll likely be hospitalized. Your doctor will work to control your signs and symptoms and to control the inflammation in your gallbladder. Treatments may include:

  • Fasting. You may not be allowed to eat or drink at first in order to take stress off your inflamed gallbladder. So that you don’t become dehydrated, you may receive fluids through a vein in your arm.
  • Antibiotics to fight infection. If your gallbladder is infected, your doctor likely will recommend antibiotics.
  • Pain medications. These can help control pain until the inflammation in your gallbladder is relieved.

Your symptoms are likely to subside in a day or two.

  • Surgery to remove the gallbladder. If the condition is recurring, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder. This is called a cholecystectomy, which can be done laparoscopically or through open surgery. You can still digest food normally without a gallbladder. Bile that normally flowed to your gallbladder will be redirected into your small intestine.

How can you Prevent Acute Cholecystitis?

You may be able to reduce your risk of cholecystitis by taking the following steps to prevent gallstones:

Lose weight slowly. Rapid weight loss can increase the risk of gallstones. If you need to lose weight, aim to lose 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 to about 1 kilogram) a week.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases the amount of cholesterol in your bile. This raises your chances of developing gallstones.
Choose a healthy diet. Diets high in fat and low in fiber may increase the risk of gallstones. To reduce your risk of gallstones, choose a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.