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What is cholecystitis?

Cholecystitis is inflammation of your gallbladder. Your gallbladder stores bile, which helps break down the fat that you eat. It also helps remove certain chemicals from your body. You may have a sudden, severe attack (acute cholecystitis) or several mild attacks (chronic cholecystitis).

What causes cholecystitis?

  • Gallstones: Normally, bile flows from your gallbladder to your bowels through a small duct. Sometimes the bile becomes hard and forms into stones. These are called gallstones. Cholecystitis may happen if gallstones block the duct. This is the most common cause of cholecystitis.
  • Gallbladder damage: You may get cholecystitis when your gallbladder does not get enough blood flow because of damage to it. Your gallbladder may become damaged when you are very sick. Other causes of damage may include recent surgery and allergic reactions.
  • Infection: Cholecystitis may be caused by infection with bacteria.
  • Narrowing of your bile duct: You may get cholecystitis if your gallbladder duct becomes more narrow.
  • Tumors: Tumors may block the passage of bile from your gallbladder and cause cholecystitis.

What increases my risk of cholecystitis?

  • Medicines: Antibiotics, birth control pills, and blood pressure medicine may increase your chances of getting gallstones.
  • Obesity: If you are obese, you may be more likely to get cholecystitis.
  • Pregnancy: If you are pregnant, you may have a higher chance of getting cholecystitis.
  • Rapid weight loss: If you lose weight too quickly then you may have a higher risk of getting cholecystitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of cholecystitis?

  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Lump on the right side of your abdomen
  • Pain in your abdomen, often after you eat a big meal with fatty foods
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes

How is cholecystitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your signs and symptoms. He will also check your abdomen to find out where it hurts. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Abdominal ultrasound: This test is done so caregivers can see the tissues and organs of your abdomen. Gel will be put on your abdomen and a small sensor will be moved across your abdomen. The sensor uses sound waves to send pictures of your abdomen to a TV-like screen.
  • CT scan: This is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your abdomen. The pictures help your caregiver see if you have gallstones or if your gallbladder is larger than usual. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken. The dye may help your healthcare provider see the pictures better. People who are allergic to iodine or shellfish (crab, lobster, or shrimp) may be allergic to some dyes. Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to shellfish or have other allergies or medical conditions.
  • A liver and gallbladder scan , or HIDA scan, takes pictures of your liver and gallbladder. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your gallbladder. This will help your healthcare provider see if your gallbladder is too big or if the outside is thicker than usual. You may be given dye before the test. Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to dye, iodine, or seafood. Remove all jewelry, and tell your healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell your healthcare provider if you cannot lie still or are afraid of closed spaces.

How is cholecystitis treated?

Your treatment may depend on whether your cholecystitis is mild, moderate, or severe.

  • Medicines:
    • Antibiotics: This medicine helps treat an infection in your gallbladder.
    • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
  • Cholecystostomy: You may need to have your gallbladder drained. A hollow needle will be put into your gallbladder through your abdomen. The bile in your gallbladder will be drained through this needle. You may also have a tube inserted in your gallbladder to drain it over several days or weeks.
  • Cholecystectomy: This is surgery to remove your gallbladder. During a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, small incisions are made in your abdomen. A small scope and special tools are inserted through these incisions. A scope is a flexible tube with a light and camera on the end. You may need an open cholecystectomy. This is when a single, larger incision is made to remove your gallbladder and clean out your abdomen.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever or chills.
  • You have nausea or vomiting.
  • You have decreased appetite.
  • You have pain when you urinate.
  • Your skin or eyes turn yellow.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain in your abdomen.
  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing.
  • You urinate less than usual.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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