10 symptoms of gallbladder problems and what they mean

Have you ever come across someone who has experienced gallstones? Chances are that you haven’t heard much else about the gallbladder otherwise.

However, this small, inconspicuous organ can cause problems if it gets blocked or hindered from functioning. To determine if this might be the case for you, you can look for 10 common symptoms of gallbladder problems.

First, the gallbladder is a small sac that sits just below your liver. Its sole function is to release bile into the digestive tract to break down foods that you eat, especially fatty foods.

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While many healthy people can live without their gallbladder, it does help to keep the digestive system running smoothly. You may have a problem with your gallbladder if you experience:

1. Abdominal pain after meals

If you suffer from abdominal pain, note any consistencies with the time of day or activities you’re doing. You may notice that the pain begins or worsens around mealtimes, especially after eating fatty or greasy foods. If this is the case, your intestines may be having a difficult time digesting the fat from your meals.

2. Nausea or vomiting

While this symptom alone won’t give you a good indication of a gallbladder issue, you may experience the nausea and vomiting along with several other symptoms.

3. Chest pain

Because the gallbladder is located in the upper abdominal area, pain caused by gallbladder problems can radiate to the chest. Especially if you’re suffering from a blockage, you might even feel as if you’re having a heart attack.

4. Jaundice

Jaundice will occur if your gallbladder gets blocked by gallstones. Because the gallbladder cannot move the bile through the body, bile will begin to build up and leave excessive amounts of bilirubin in the blood.

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Eventually, the extra bilirubin will cause yellowing in your skin or eyes, called jaundice. Seek prompt medical treatment.

5. Intermittent abdominal pain

Another characteristic symptom that you may experience is severe, intermittent abdominal pain. This pain may last several hours and may not happen at regular intervals. In fact, they can sometimes occur with years in between.

Again, this type of pain might be attributed to a gallstone blockage. With a blockage, the gallbladder may actually be contracting in an attempt to clear itself of build-up. Your doctor would describe this contraction as a biliary colic.

6. Fever/chills

A fever related to the gallbladder indicates that you have an inflammation. Your gallbladder can become inflamed (cholecystitis) by gallstones, bacterial infection, alcohol consumption or a tumor.

In some cases of gallstone blockage, the gallbladder may even rupture, a serious danger that requires immediate medical action. If you have any notion that your fever is related to a gallbladder problem, see your doctor.

7. Change in the color of urine or stools

When bile is flowing properly through your digestive system, you should normally have a brown-colored stool. However, a change in stool color may indicate a gallbladder problem, especially if it is pale or clay-colored. Your urine can also darken, but this symptom is more vague and can be related to other problems as well.

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8. Chronic diarrhea

In the case of gallbladder disease, you may notice a general fullness in your stomach, long-term abdominal discomfort and excessive gas. In this case, you will likely suffer from chronic diarrhea as your body struggles to digest properly.

9. Heartburn and indigestion

By its very definition, indigestion suggests a disruption in the body’s ability to digest food. Although a common symptom for other digestive conditions, it can mean that a gallbladder problem exists. Check into the indigestion if it happens frequently, especially after meals with fatty foods.

10. Pain when inhaling

Finally, pain related to your gallbladder may increase when you take in a deep breath. This correlation occurs because of where the gallbladder is located in the body. The pain may indicate a blockage in the gallbladder and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Problems associated with the gallbladder can have a variety of symptoms, depending on the exact condition. However, upper abdominal pain and difficulty digesting fatty foods are good indications of a gallbladder problem. While you may not need your gallbladder for essential, everyday life, you should look into any problems that you suspect are related to this organ. Then, once you’re cleared by a doctor, you can safely forget about your gallbladder again.

This article first appeared on AskDrManny.com.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.