Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder, a small organ near the liver that plays a part in digesting food. Normally, fluid called bile passes out of the gallbladder on its way to the small intestine. If the flow of bile is blocked, it builds up inside the gallbladder, causing swelling, pain, and possible infection.
Cholecystitis is often caused by cholelithiasis (the presence of choleliths, or gallstones, in the gallbladder), with choleliths most commonly blocking the cystic duct directly. This leads to inspissation (thickening) of bile, bile stasis, and secondary infection by gut organisms, predominantly E. coli and Bacteroides species.
The gallbladder's wall becomes inflamed. Extreme cases may result in necrosis and rupture. Inflammation often spreads to its outer covering, thus irritating surrounding structures such as the diaphragm and bowel.
Less commonly, in debilitated and trauma patients, the gallbladder may become inflamed and infected in the absence of cholelithiasis, and is known as acute acalculous cholecystitis. This can arise in patients with anorexia nervosa, as the lack of stimulation of the gallbladder leads to an infectious process.
Stones in the gallbladder may cause obstruction and the accompanying acute attack. The patient might develop a chronic, low-level inflammation which leads to a chronic cholecystitis, where the gallbladder is fibrotic and calcified.
The most common symptom of cholecystitis is pain in your upper right abdomen that can sometimes move around to your back or right shoulder blade. Other symptoms include:
Nausea or vomiting.
Tenderness in the right abdomen.
Pain that gets worse during a deep breath.
Pain for more than 6 hours, particularly after meals.
Older people may not have fever or pain. Their only symptom may be a tender area in the abdomen.
Treatment for cholecystitis will depend on your symptoms and your general health. People who have gallstones but don't have any symptoms may need no treatment. For mild cases, treatment includes bowel rest, fluids and antibiotics given through a vein, and pain medicine.
The main treatment for acute cholecystitis is surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). Often this surgery can be done through small incisions in the abdomen (laparoscopic cholecystectomy), but sometimes it requires a more extensive operation. Your doctor may try to reduce swelling and irritation in the gallbladder before removing it. Sometimes acute cholecystitis is caused by one or more gallstones getting stuck in the main tube leading to the intestine, called the common bile duct. Treatment may involve an endoscopic procedure (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP) to remove the stones in the common bile duct before the gallbladder is removed.
In rare cases of chronic cholecystitis, you may also receive medicine that dissolves gallstones over a period of time.