The gallbladder is a small organ located directly under the liver, which functions to store and deliver bile into the small intestine where it will be used to break down fat from food. A gallstone forms as a small, hardened deposit of material in the bladder that can go undetectable for years until it begins to block the digestive tract. When the stone grows to a point where it is causing blockage, it becomes dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. Here are some of the signs that you may be dealing with a serious gallstone.
Severe abdominal pain
One of the cornerstone symptoms of a gallstone is severe abdominal pain mostly located in the upper right portion of the stomach. Sometimes, the pain may even radiate into the right shoulder, center abdomen and the upper back. The pain will often occur especially after eating, because the gallbladder will try to force the stone out, considering it is attempting to pass through an impossibly-sized opening. You may be in pain anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, which will be especially severe following large meals high in fat.
Nausea and vomiting
Many of the gallstone symptoms mimic those of indigestion or acid reflux, causing many cases of confusion and late diagnosis. However, oftentimes the stone will become lodged in the duct that produces digestive enzymes. This will block the flow of the digestion process and result in inflammation, pain and swelling— which can often cause vomiting. To identify gallstone nausea from the host of other indigestion issues, note whether you have repeated bouts of nausea and vomiting coupled with upper right abdominal pain.
The gallbladder works by sending bile to the small intestine through the bile duct. However, if the stone blocks the bile duct, it will cause backup in the system, causing bile to build up in the gallbladder. This results in the overproduction of a yellow substance called bilirubin, which is supposed to process the bile. This excess bilirubin then enters the bloodstream, resulting in a yellowing of the skin and sometimes the whites of the eyes. This substance is also the one that turns your urine yellow and your poop brown. When the bilirubin is not broken down properly, people report having dark urine and light poop, even though they are properly hydrated.
The pancreas sits right next to the liver and produces digestive enzymes that are sent into the digestive tract, which also houses the bile duct. Thus, the pancreatic duct and the bile duct meet before the intestine, forming a relationship between the gallbladder and the pancreas. Therefore, when the stone attempts to exit the gallbladder, it may cause blockage in the pancreatic duct, which will result in an uncomfortable combination of symptoms such as inflammation and abdominal pain leading to pancreatitis. Some signs of pancreatitis include stomach pain, rapid heartbeat and a fever.
If the gallstone grows to be a certain size in an unfortunate location, it also has the potential to cause a complete blockage of all functions of the gallbladder. This will result in a build-up of bile in the bladder which may cause a serious infection and inflammation. Some signs of this infection include radiating pain of the right shoulder, rapid heartbeat, chills and a fever of 100.4 degrees. If your condition reaches this point, you must seek medical attention immediately so that you can be treated. Usually, treatment will consist of surgery to remove the gallbladder in addition to antibiotics to help fight off the rest of the infection.