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Alternative Names Return to topCholecystitis - acute
Definition Return to top
Acute cholecystitis is a sudden inflammation of the gallbladder that causes severe abdominal pain.
See also: Chronic cholecystitis
Causes Return to top
In 90% of cases, acute cholecystitis is caused by gallstones in the gallbladder. Severe illness, alcohol abuse and, rarely, tumors of the gallbladder may also cause cholecystitis.
Acute cholecystitis causes bile to become trapped in the gallbladder. The build up of bile causes irritation and pressure in the gallbladder. This can lead to bacterial infection and perforation of the organ.
Gallstones occur more frequently in women than men. Gallstones become more common with age in both sexes. Native Americans have a higher rate of gallstones.
Symptoms Return to top
The main symptom is abdominal pain that is located on the upper right side or upper middle of the abdomen. The pain may:
Other symptoms that may occur include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical exam will show that your abdomen is tender to the touch.
Your doctor may order the following blood tests:
Imaging tests that can show gallstones or inflammation include:
Treatment Return to top
Seek immediate medical attention for severe abdominal pain.
In the emergency room, patients with acute cholecystitis are given fluids through a vein and antibiotics to fight infection.
Although cholecystitis may clear up on its own, surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is usually needed when inflammation continues or recurs. Surgery is usually done as soon as possible, however some patients will not need surgery right away.
Nonsurgical treatment includes pain medicines, antibiotics to fight infection, and a low-fat diet (when food can be tolerated).
Emergency surgery may be necessary if gangrene (tissue death), perforation, pancreatitis, or inflammation of the common bile duct occurs.
Occasionally, in very ill patients, a tube may be placed through the skin to drain the gallbladder until the patient gets better and can have surgery.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Patients who have surgery to remove the gallbladder usually do very well.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if severe abdominal pain persists.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms of cholecystitis recur after an acute episode.
Prevention Return to top
Removal of the gallbladder and gallstones will prevent further attacks. Follow a low-fat diet if you are prone to gallstone attacks.
References Return to top
Siddiqui T. Early versus delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy for acute cholecystitis: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Am J Surg. Jan 2008; 195(1): 40-7.
Chari RS, Shah SA. Biliary System. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 18th ed. St. Louis, M0: WB Saunders; 2008: chap. 54.
Diseases of the Gallbladder and Bile Ducts. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap. 159.Update Date: 6/3/2008 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.