Gallbladder Questions

Just to give some context, I’ve lived with IBS most of my life, but can generally keep it under control with proper diet. Since going on a new medication in March (Depo-Provera for suspected endometriosis), the symptoms have been greatly reduced.

Something has started happening to me that isn’t IBS. The symptoms, timing and duration are completely different.

This new thing usually happens when I’m on vacation and have had one-too-many fast food dinners, and it happened on Thanksgiving, and a little bit last night when I ate two bowls of soup. A couple to several hours after eating, I experience intense, prolonged stomach pain, not in my lower stomach but right around my solar plexus area, and it feels like my insides are being stretched apart. When it started I assumed it was just gas (gas does seem to be associated with it), but I’ve never had gas this painful. The pain is just awful, probably a 9 on the pain scale, and when it really gets going it hurts my lower back. And it can last a long time. Sometimes after an episode my stomach is sore for a couple of days. Last night it was enough pain to keep me from falling back asleep during the night. So far this has only happened once a month or so, but it seems to be getting more frequent.

I have a suspicion this may be gall-bladder related, but I am one of those people who likes to make behavioral changes before resorting to medical intervention. In the last few years I’ve had a ton of invasive gastrointestinal tests which all came back normal, and I really don’t want to go through that again just to find out it’s nothing.

So the questions:

  1. Could this be gallbladder?
  2. How are gallbladder problems diagnosed?
  3. Are there any alternatives to gallbladder removal? Could I, for example, just eat a lowfat diet to prevent future occurrences? Or am I really putting myself in danger by not going to the doctor ASAP?

Thanks for sharing your gallbladder experiences.


If I was in your position, I’d go to the doctor - sometimes self-diagnosis is way off. (Thinking of my mother who ended up in the hospital getting a transfusion because of her overuse of NSAIDS.)

As for gallbladders, I can only address my personal experience. I had one really, really bad attack after eating a particularly greasy breakfast. I thought I was having a heart attack, as did the paramedics. Turns out my gallbladder was full of stones. I decided the best course of action for me was to have the thing yanked out - I didn’t want another attack.

I don’t know if it can give you problems if you don’t have gallstones, but again, based on my experience, I would think dietary changes could help. As for danger, my husband was having pains and he refused to do anything about it till it got really bad - turns out his gallbladder was seriously infected and after having it removed, he was in the hospital for 3 days. Mine came out in day surgery and I went home that very afternoon. So, yeah, ignoring it could be bad. Or it might not. Which is why I think seeing a doctor is prudent.

I’m a mom, so I know these things… :wink:

I agree have a doctor check you out and get a diagnosis. My Mother was “certain” she was having gall bladder problems starting last December and refused to go to the doctor. She was trying to control the attacks with diet changes and herbal therapy. To make a long story short she had a final “gallbladder” attack in May and we lost her to what was actually a heart attack. The doctor said her heart was badly damaged from a series of attacks and it was certainly her heart that had been giving her pain for the last few months. Please get things checked out so you know for sure. If it is gall bladder and not an emergency situation you can try the lifestyle changes.


  1. Yes, it could be your gallbladder.

  2. Ultrasound, usually.

  3. Maybe. There was never any rhyme or reason to my attacks, though, they just happened and didn’t seem to be caused by any particular type of food. Nothing’s ever gonna make gallstones go away, though. And if one ever gets lodged in the wrong place (bile duct, for example), you could be in a world if trouble.

Go to the doctor.

It’s time to doctor up - she should be able to diagnose a gall bladder full of stones with an ultrasound. My husband had a huge gallstone - he had to have the big surgery because the stone was too big. If you have gallstones now, I’d say just get them out in the easy, quick day surgery, rather than letting them grow and bother you and get worse. As far as I know, there is no dietary change that will get rid of them.

When I started having similar symptoms (but with the addition of throwing up at the same time that I was experiencing excruciating pain), the doctor, a gastroenterologist, made an immediate preliminary diagnosis of gallstones. He said that it might be possible to control it without surgery, but that I should have an ultrasound.

Once the ultrasound results came back, he said that it was quite bad, and I really did need surgery.

So I had the surgery, and it was very easy. (Laparoscopic, one night in the hospital, IIRC.) I have never regretted it. Those gallbladder attacks were unbearable.

So, yeah, see a doctor to get an official diagnosis and a recommendation on the best way to proceed.

I had mine out years ago (pre-laparoscopic). On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was 20. The diet I was on to prevent more attacks didn’t work. They only became worse.

A few years after I had mine removed, my mother had an attack. A couple of weeks later she had it removed (also pre-laparoscopic), and eating practically nothing before it was removed didn’t work for her, either. She later told me the attacks had hurt more than giving birth to me.

Get thee to an MD yesterday. Attacks can hit at the worst times. The final one happened at work and I was hauled off to hospital in an ambulance.

The ultrasound necessary to diagnose gallstones is fast, painless, and accurate. While it does sound like you’re having gallbladder problems - and preventing another attack is more about keeping a steady level of fat in your diet rather than going completely low or fat free - women tend to have unusual patterns of pain with heart attacks.

The gimme traits doctors are told to look for with gallbladder patients are the five Fs: female, fair, forty, fat, and flatulent.

I’ll add one detail that I don’t see mentioned in this thread yet:

IF the problem is in fact gallstones or other gall bladder trouble, and IF the resolution is to get your gall bladder surgically removed, THEN here is anecdote to suggest the result could be good:

This happened to my father many many years ago. He had big trouble eating anything fatty. His doctor told him: After you get it taken out, you will be able to eat anything just fine. That proved to be correct.

So, judging by this one data point, there is evidence that you could have an excellent result, IF this is what’s going on here.

We always learned it as female, forty, fat, and fertile (as in multiple children). Not to imply that the OP is any of the above, of course.
Just to 10th or 11th or whatever that you should see a doctor. Ultrasound is super fact and completely painless, as is an EKG to rule out possible cardiac causes. Not much to lose, and very much to gain.

Another biggie in probable gallbladder: if you have gained or lost a lot of weight in the past year–your pain is probably the gallbladder.

Gallstones may or may not have symptoms. Some people have a gallbladder full of gravel, and they are completely symptom free. Others may have only a few stones, but if one gets lodged in the bile duct, you got problems.

A problematic gallbladder can get infected or gangrenous. And nothing in the world will cure a sick gallbladder except emergency surgery.

First thing Monday AM: call your doctor’s office!

This was the case for me as well. I do know people who’ve had to avoid certain foods after having it removed, though.

Another voice to go see a doctor. While it takes more to make a diagnosis, the doctor was pretty sure I had gallstones when he couldn’t get through the whole sentence: does it hurt when I press h. . . .? The odd thing was that it didn’t hurt where he pressed. Most of the pain was in my back and near my solar plexus.

And before the doctor presses there, does it ever feel like you’re being squeezed or as if the pain is stronger when you’re breathing in? That’s supposed to be a possible sign.

As for afterwards, some people have no trouble eating. Others need to be sure that the path to the bathroom is clear before they sit down to eat, sometimes for half a year or more. I would suggest being sure which category you’re in before you eat out.

Even with the old-time, non-lap, let’s dig deep surgery, the surgery and recovery hurt less than one good attack did. I never regretted getting it done.

See a doctor and get an ultrasound.

If it’s gallstones, you have two options.

  1. You get an opportunity to research, interview and select a surgeon of your choice to perform the Laparoscopic procedure.

  2. The procedure is done on an emergency basis and performed by an on-call surgeon and that individual may decide on a Laparoscopic or the Full Monty and simply cut your gut open because that’s an easier and quicker operation from a surgeons point of view. Much longer recovery period.

My surgeon said the same thing, except I only met the first two of that criteria.

They don’t know what caused my gallbladder attack. I have no cholesterol issues, but since my attack was so sudden and so severe (as in doubling-over-in-screaming-pain-out-of-the-blue), I was in the hospital for a week undergoing every conceivable test. The head surgeon didn’t want to operate because I hadn’t had another attack while in the hospital. The head GI surgeon wanted to yank it out so I wouldn’t have another attack. He won, btw.

The operation was laparoscopic. I couldn’t bend, sit comfortably, laugh, sneeze, or sleep for about a week afterward (the hospital gave me a folded up chuck to lean against). Later at work I learned that gallbladder issues aren’t unusual in women who have lost a great deal of weight within a relatively short time. Then it dawned on me: I went through the Jenny Craig program back in the '90s and lost 50 lbs. within 8 months. I researched it and found this.

Yikes. Early this year I was diagnosed with high cholesterol. I didn’t consider that possibility.

I fit four of the five criteria, assuming ‘‘fair’’ means light-skinned.

…Aaaand that was the final nail in the coffin of my resistance to medical intervention. You’ve all convinced me.

As if you needed more convincing…

The pain of biliary colic (the thing that feels like a heart attack but isn’t) is far worse than the pain of recovering from g.b. surgery.

Funky gallbladders do not get better; they can only get worse. If it ruptures, you would be in the ICU and facing potential nastiness like gangrene.

You can live a perfectly normal life without the g.b. if necessary.

All right, Doctor on the 22nd. Soonest they could get me in. Let’s hope my stomach doesn’t explode by then.

I’m glad you’ve decided to go - the diagnosis is dead easy, it’s an ultrasound, which is fairly painless.

By the time they suggested it to me (about 30 seconds after I had to call a doctor at stupid o’clock, after not sleeping for days because of the screaming vomit-inducing pain whenever I moved - I’m a slow learner) I’d have done almost anything to end the pain. I was 19, and similarly attached to keeping my body parts if possible - I saw a nutritionist, who told me that while I could maybe control it with diet, the diet I’d have to follow with or without surgery would be broadly similar (low-fat, plus some other bits I can’t remember now). If I screwed up without the surgery, I’d be back to the screaming agony (literally, I remember one night curled up on my bathroom floor sobbing with pain); if I had the surgery and screwed up, it would be some mild discomfort, with possibly some diarrhea. I booked the surgery, I was out of hospital the next day and back to normal life after about 3 days, and life has been much better ever since - for me, the choice was obvious.

Good luck!

ETA: If the pain gets worse, or you get jaundiced, don’t wait to see your doctor - if you get jaundiced, from the little I remember from my doctors, it means one of the stones has escaped and blocked an important tube somewhere…

I just had my gallbladder out about two months ago. The ultrasound will reveal the presence of gallstones, but the problem is that many people have gallstones without any problems. They will give you another diagnostic procedure if you have stones called a HIDA scan, which will reveal if the stones are causing any blockage.