Learning About Acute Cholecystitis

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Gallstone in cystic duct

What is cholecystitis?

Cholecystitis (say "koh-lih-sis-TY-tus") is inflammation of the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores bile. Bile helps the body digest food. Normally, the bile flows from the gallbladder to the small intestine.

A gallstone stuck in the cystic duct is most often the cause of sudden (acute) cholecystitis. The cystic duct is the tube that carries the bile out of the gallbladder. The gallstone blocks the bile from leaving the gallbladder. This results in an irritated and swollen gallbladder.

The disease can also be caused by infection or trauma, such as an injury from a car accident.

Cholecystitis has to be treated right away and likely in the hospital. Surgery is the usual treatment.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of acute cholecystitis is steady and severe pain in the upper right part of the belly. The pain can move to the back or the right shoulder blade. You may also have nausea, vomiting, or a fever.

How is it treated?

Treatment for cholecystitis will depend on your symptoms and your general health.

The main way to treat this disease is surgery to remove the gallbladder. This surgery can often be done through small cuts (incisions) in the belly. This is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. In some cases, you may need a more extensive surgery.

You may need surgery as soon as possible. The doctor may try to reduce swelling and irritation in the gallbladder before removing it. You may be given fluids and antibiotics through an I.V. You may also be given pain medicine.

If you are not able to have surgery or cannot have it right away, the doctor may put a tube in the gallbladder to drain the bile.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.