If you just came from the doctor with the diagnosis of biliary colic, you might be wondering exactly what it is you have. For many, the term “colic” brings a picture of a crying baby who cannot be comforted. Actually, the comparison is not too far off, as babies with colic often curl their legs up as if they are having great stomach pain. However, unlike biliary colic pain, a baby’s pain is not usually associated with the gall bladder.
“Biliary colic” is a medical term for the terrible right side pain you are already experiencing. Knowing the symptoms, signs of gallbladder stones, treatment options, and an effective gallbladder stones diet may help you better understand what the doctor is saying, and what your options are.
Why Do I Feel This Pain?
The pain occurs when a gallstone is blocking your biliary duct – the tubes from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine where bile flows and helps you digest your food. This pain may be confused with pancreatitis, intestinal pain, or even pancreatic cancer.
Keep in mind, though, that not every case of gallstones causes biliary pain. In fact, many people that have gallstones do not ever have pain. The reason that some people experience pain as a result of their gallstones is because of blockage.
Whenever gallstones begin to block the normal flow of bile, the gallbladder can become enlarged. The accompanying pain is inflammation and the result of efforts to push the release of bile through. This can also happen in the case of a tumor blocking the duct, or even just duct constriction.
Gallstones may not be the only cause of biliary colic, as several other issues have similar pain patterns, including:
- Peptic Ulcer Disease – peptic ulcers are sores in the lining of the duodenum, or the first part of the intestines.
- Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas causes very similar symptoms to biliary colic. Your pancreas can become inflamed as a result of gallstones, but it may also be due to heavy alcohol use, infection, or medications.
Because both of these illnesses are related to the duodenum area (the upper part of your small intestine), they can produce symptoms similar to biliary colic. This is because the gallbladder also empties into the duodenum. Since these disorders all have similar symptoms, your doctor may have to conduct further tests to confirm the source of your pain.
About the Pain
In the medical world, biliary colic is defined as “right upper quadrant, epigastric severe recurrent pain.” In layman’s terms it represents pain that is usually directly under the rib cage on the right side of the body that is typically one of the signs of gallstones.
The pain may be steady (you feel it all the time), or intermittent (it comes and goes). However, because the pain is not always just in one place, it is good to know the various ways pain from biliary colic may appear:
- Pressure – for some people the pain associated with biliary colic may take on the form of pressure. A feeling of heaviness or something pressing against your upper abdomen may indicate biliary colic.
- Ache – dull or throbbing, an ache is a more consistent pain that feels like it is deep inside of you.
- Location – While the most common place that people feel biliary colic pain is directly below the right rib cage, it can also spread to several other areas, including the center abdomen – just below the breastbone, and in the mid-back/right shoulder area.
- Duration – pain associated with biliary colic may last for only a short while initially, but eventually may last for up to three hours at a time.
- Triggered by fatty meals – if you suffer from biliary colic you may have noticed the pain more frequently after you have eaten a meal with lots of fats.
- Nausea and Vomiting – may accompany the pain.
- Often Occurs at Night
- No relief– movement, passing gas, or taking pain relievers does not seem to relieve the pain.
Relief From the Pain
A look through medical journals reveals that the most recommended treatment for biliary colic is removal of the gallbladder, also called a cholecystectomy.
However, many of the same discussions show that some people still deal with the pain of bilary colic after the surgery. This could be because of misdiagnosis – maybe it was not really the gallbladder that was causing the pain in the first place.
So, while removal of the gallbladder may certainly be the best treatment for some, if the pain is more manageable it may be beneficial to check out other options as well:
- Fat-free diet – bile is released into the intestines in order to break down fats. The theory behind eating a fat-free diet is that the gallbladder would not be stimulated to release bile if no fat is eaten. This may be a great way to diagnose a gallbladder issue as well. If you are wondering how to eat without fat, here are a few tips:
- Lots of Fruits and Vegetables – unless you add fat like butter or oil, fruits and vegetables are an excellent way to reduce your fat intake while boosting the amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you consume. Cooked, steamed, or raw are all excellent ways to include fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Grains – brown rice and other grains are also usually acceptable on a low-fat or fat-free diet.
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast – with the fat trimmed off is a great source of protein.
- Skim dairy products – skim milk, light yogurt, fat-free cream cheese: all of these are acceptable ways to include the calcium-rich goodness of dairy into your diet.
Because the body needs some fats to remain healthy, you may want to experiment with a low-fat diet that includes limited amounts of some healthy fats. Fish oil (and fish), flaxseeds, walnuts, olive oil, and safflower oil used in moderation may be well-tolerated by some.
- Medication – one possibility for dealing with biliary colic is taking medication that dissolves gallstones. This treatment will only have possibility of success in people who have smaller, non-calcified gallstones. Gallstones may take 6 to 12 months to dissolve, and may recur within five years.
- Sound waves – another medical treatment is sound wave shock treatment. This treatment is done without general anesthesia and works by breaking up the gallstones, making them easier to pass. Again, this only works for small, cholesterol-based gallstones rather than larger, calcified stones. Because it is only recommended for about 15% of gallbladder patients, it has not gained much popularity.
- Gallbladder Flush – many people have found relief from gallbladder issues through a gallbladder flush. This can be accomplished at home with simple ingredients, and may help you completely avoid invasive surgery. Such a flush can produce longer lasting, healthier results than a fat-free diet, and help to avoid invasive gallbladder surgery.
- Combined treatment – a combination of a low-fat diet and a gallbladder flush is sometimes the best way to find lasting, healthy relief from biliary colic. The flush helps remove current stones, while a low-fat diet helps to relieve pressure on the gallbladder to release large amounts of bile.
If your doctor has diagnosed you with biliary colic, you may wish to have some follow-up tests to determine other causes for the pain. If you find that your pain is related to the gallbladder, you may wish to try some alternative therapies before agreeing to gallbladder surgery, due to the continued symptoms many people face after surgery. Biliary colic, while painful, can be helped with changes in diet and natural treatments.
Pain in the abdomen can be both mysterious and troubling. Feeling pain always brings a measure of fear, causing people to wonder if there is something seriously wrong. Alarm bells start going off in the head, “Could this be appendicitis?” “What about my gallbladder?” If you have questions about abdominal pain, learning about the signs of gallbladder troubles may be a good place to start.
What Can Go Wrong?
There are two main diseases related to the gallbladder: cholecystitis (inflammation) and gallstones (also called (cholelithiasis) … no wonder doctors get paid the big bucks! Just the names lead to pain. Anyway, both disorders are often related and have similar symptoms.
- Inflammation – cholecystitis may have at least three possible causes: gallstones, a tumor, or bile duct blockage. Tumor growth causes inflammation by blocking the drainage of the gallbladder, much like gallstones would. Blockage of the bile ducts is much less common, but can occur because of scar tissue or kinking.
- Gallstones – the most common cause of gallbladder related pains, gallstones affect a surprising number of people. Although many people have gallstones that never produce symptoms, 20% of the U.S. population suffers from gallstone symptoms at some point in their lives.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Since most inflammation of the gallbladder is caused by gallstones, the discussion here will center on symptoms related to gallstones.
- Abdominal Pain – the pain related to gallstones is usually on the right side, directly below the rib cage. It may come suddenly. Gallbladder pain is often called biliary colic by the medical profession, due to the fact that it is related to the flow of bile and is often intermittent (it comes and goes). Gallbladder pain may be steady for 1-5 hours, and then disappear for a time.
- Back Pain – gallbladder pain sometimes radiates to the back, in the area directly behind the right side of the lower ribcage in the front. It can also radiate up to the shoulder.
- Worse after a meal – heavy meals, especially those that are high in fat often trigger gallstone pain.
- Nocturnal – gallstone pain often occurs at night.
- No Relief – painkillers, changing position, and relieving gas does little to ease the pain.
Relief From the Pain
While the thought of gallstones usually brings surgery to mind, there are a number of other things that may help deal with the problem. Before alternative treatment is taken, it is recommended to receive an accurate diagnosis from a doctor, and work with him or her during treatment.
- Diet – diet plays a major role in the formation of gallstones. Eating a diet low in fat and high in dietary fiber may help reduce gallbladder attacks. Doctors often recommend that patients reduce refined foods, eliminated trans fatty acids and include more fruits and vegetables in their diet.
- Homeopathic Remedies – homeopathic professionals have a number of remedies that may help find relief. These can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the person who is suffering.
- Herbal Therapies – milk thistle and globe artichoke are herbs that are specific to the health of the liver and gallbladder. Supplementation with these herbs may help detoxify the gallbladder.
- Gallbladder Flush – many people have found success by doing a gallbladder flush such as the one recommended here.
See a Doctor
If you experience high fever with chills, intense abdominal pain that will not go away, or yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, seek medical attention immediately!
Everyone has had stomach pain and nausea from time to time. Whether because of something you ate or a bacteria or virus, it’s a common occurrence. While no stomach pain is enjoyable, some forms are a little more serious than others.
If pain turns sharp, stabbing and is centered in the upper abdomen, this needs to be taken much more seriously. How do you know when that pain is calling for attention? Understanding a little more about your abdomen, other causes of pain, and the symptoms of biliary colic (pain caused by gallstones) may help.
Anatomy of the Abdomen
The abdomen is considered the area from the chest (directly below the ribs) and extending down to the pelvis. The abdominal cavity contains a number of important organs including the kidneys, liver, spleen, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, colon, duodenum, appendix, and intestines. A look at a diagram of the abdominal organs can help understand the location of the organs, and differentiate the possible sources of pain.
Notice, for example, that the gallbladder and liver are on the right side of the abdomen, while the stomach is more on the left side. If your pain is located primarily on the upper right side of your abdomen, it could be caused by the gallbladder or the liver, and is more than likely not associated with the lower intestines, for example.
Causes of Stomach Pain
Pain in the stomach can be caused by a number of different sources. Stomach pain also varies in type and severity. It can include nausea, sharp or stabbing pain, pulsing pain, or dull aching.
Some common causes of stomach or abdominal pain include:
- Stomach ulcers
- Irritable Bowel System
- Menstrual cramps
The symptoms of the various causes of stomach pain vary greatly, and it can be hard to diagnose a condition based solely on pain descriptions. However, knowing the specific symptoms of biliary colic can help either eliminate or confirm a possible gallbladder related issue.
Biliary Colic Symptoms
The pain from biliary colic can be either steady or intermittent, but it will most likely be felt as an ache in the upper portion of the abdomen, usually directly below the right side of the rib cage. This is due to the location of the gallbladder.
Biliary colic may produce pain that:
- Radiates to the back and up to the right shoulder
- Is a dull ache or severe and debilitating
- Usually occurs after eating a fatty meal
- Often occurs at night
- May persist from an hour to five hours
- May produce nausea and vomiting
- May feel like pressure, burning, or a heavy feeling
To See a Doctor or Not
Although normal stomach pain, nausea, or even vomiting, is temporary and needs no medical intervention, symptoms which appear to be more severe need attention. If you are having severe abdominal pain, or severe pain below your ribcage on the right side, with or without vomiting, you should call your doctor.
If develop sudden fever and shaking chills accompanied by the symptoms of biliary colic, you should contact a physician immediately. This could indicate an infection of your gallbladder (cholecystitis), which requires immediate medical attention.
Wondering if you have pancreatitis? While not a common illness, it can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort. Because the symptoms of pancreatitis are similar to other digestive disorders including biliary colic, peptic ulcer disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, it is important to understand symptoms that may be specific to your pancreas, as well as underlying causes.
What is it?
First of all, you may be wondering what your pancreas actually does. The pancreas is part of the digestive tract. It has ducts that empty into the upper part of the intestines, called the duodenum. The pancreas produces two main types of substances: digestive juices, which help break down proteins and fats that are being digested, and digestive enzymes and hormones such as insulin, which are released into the blood to help control blood sugar levels.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. Inflammation is part of the body’s way of dealing with foreign substances like viruses or bacteria. When the pancreas becomes inflamed it can lead to swelling, and spread to the surrounding area, causing bleeding, infection, and eventual damage to the pancreas.
Types of Pancreatitis
There are two basic types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. The symptoms of both can range from mild to severe.
- Acute – this form appears suddenly, and is usually is the result of gallstones. It may also be caused by chronic alcoholism, infections, trauma or injury to the abdomen, or reactions to certain medicines. This form of pancreatitis can be life-threatening, but often resolves within a short amount of time with treatment.
- Chronic – often begins as acute pain, but is due to more long-term damage. Chronic pancreatitis is often the result of chronic drinking rather than an illness such as gallstones. It can also be due to inherited disorders, cystic fibrosis, high levels of calcium in the blood, and certain autoimmune diseases. This form of pancreatitis has a risk of long-term effects.
The symptoms of acute pancreatitis often come on more suddenly and are more severe than those of the chronic condition. Either form usually involves pain in the upper abdomen that comes on either suddenly or gradually. It may extend to the back as well. Because the pain may be worse after eating, pancreatitis pain can be confused with biliary colic (gallstone attacks).
However, pancreatic pain will grow worse and become constant, sometimes lasting for several days. It may also be accompanied by:
- Racing pulse
- Tender, swollen abdomen
A person with acute pancreatitis often looks very ill and needs immediate medical attention.
Chronic pancreatitis begins with similar pain, but that pain may disappear as the condition worsens. Other symptoms will include diarrhea, oily stools, and weight loss. This is due to poor digestion due to the lack of digestive enzymes.
Biliary Colic or Pancreatitis?
The cause of biliary colic and pancreatitis is often the same: gallstones. Because of the location of both the pancreas and the bile ducts, their pain may be similar. A few minor differences may be noticed:
- Pain Duration – pain from pancreatitis tends to be constant, while biliary colic pain tends to come and go: it is more “colicky.” This may be because biliary pain is often caused by the gallbladder trying to force bile through blocked bile ducts.
- Fever – is far more common in pancreatitis than biliary colic.
- Location – biliary colic pain can often be directly on the right side.
If you are unsure of the source of your symptoms, or you are feeling debilitating pain, see a doctor immediately. Cases of acute pancreatitis need immediate attention.
Coming home from the doctor with a complicated name for a sickness can be confusing, but having a diagnosis is the first step toward understanding how to find relief for the symptoms you are experiencing. The vast number of causes for abdominal pain can lead to discouragement, but knowing a name associated with your pain may actually bring hope of treatment and relief.
Defining Biliary Dyskinesia
The term biliary refers to the tract through which bile flows. Bile is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the upper part of the intestines (the duodenum) to help aid the digestion of fats and cholesterol. Dyskinesia refers to a disorder of movement. So, biliary dyskinesia related to a problem with the flow of bile.
If the doctor has suggested the possibility of biliary dyskinesia, he means that there is a possibility that the opening going into the intestines may not be functioning properly. This opening is called the sphincter of Oddi (SO), and allows the bile from the gallbladder to be emptied into the intestines. In many cases, the patient has already had his gallbladder removed, but is still having symptoms of abdominal pain. In other cases, biliary dyskinesia may occur in persons who still have their gallbladder, but do not have gallstones. This pain usually has similar symptoms to that of gallstones (pain associated with gallstones is called by doctors biliary colic, and the much more descriptive gallstone attack by the rest of us).
Diagnosing This Problem
Biliary dyskinesia is generally thought of as a set of symptoms, rather than the actual cause of a disease. To determine if a person has this disorder doctors will often recommend a series of tests, which may include:
- Blood Tests – can sometimes point to specific problems in the body. One test that may be requested is a liver function test (LFT).
- Ultrasound – a view of the gallbladder helps your doctor confirm that gallstones are not the source of your pain. The ultrasound will not show if the opening to the intestine is functioning properly, but it can eliminate gallstones as the source of your symptoms.
- HIDA Scan – this test is able to reveal much more about the flow of your bile from the liver into the intestines. It can reveal obstructions in the bile ducts, leaks in the bile, and other abnormalities. This test involves injecting radioactive material called hydroxy iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) into the patient and observing its flow with a special camera, called a gamma, that is placed over the outside of the abdomen. This is one of the more accurate tests for gallbladder function.
Treatment and Relief
Some doctors recommend removing the gallbladder to treat this condition, even without the presence of gallstones. However, this treatment has mixed results, with recovery rate from the pain about the same in patients who had the surgery, compared to those who did not.
Choosing alternative treatments before pursuing surgery might be a successful alternative in many cases. Diet plays a major role in managing the symptoms, but stress management is another interesting facet.
- Diet – nearly every malfunction of the flow of bile can be helped with dietary changes. This is because diets that are high in fats and low in fiber appear to be major triggers. Eliminating or reducing high fat foods, such as fried foods, highly marbled meats, and trans fatty acids is a highly recommended step. Adding more dietary fiber through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help as well. Try to eat smaller meals more frequently. Choose lower fat dairy products and healthy oils such as olive oil.
- Stress Management – biliary dyskinesia is sometimes linked to stress, and may be related to the release of dopamine. Typical stress management recommendations, such as walking, doing enjoyable activities, and practicing meditation may help relieve symptoms.
Whether you have had your gallbladder removed, have gallstones, or are just concerned about gallbladder health, there are some easy ways to make changes that can help keep your gallbladder and intestinal tract healthy. Of course, people who are actually dealing with acute gallstones will want to be more aggressive in their dietary changes, but dietary change is a great way to ease the symptoms of biliary colic and deal with problems associated with the gallbladder.
The Cause of Gallbladder Issues
Although doctors are somewhat unclear about the specific causes of gallstones, there are certain lifestyles and conditions in which gallstones more commonly appear. Gallstones are either cholesterol based or pigment based (too much bilirubin in the bile). Risk factors for gallstones include:
- High fat/low fiber diets – because the gallbladder aids in the digestion of fats, many studies have shown that high fat diets with very little corresponding fiber may be a large contributor to the formation of stones.
- Obesity – gallstones appear much more frequently in individuals with higher body mass index (BMI). This is especially true of women, where there is twice the risk in women with a BMI of 30kg/m2 or higher compared to those with a BMI of 20kg/m2. This is most likely due to the fact that bile salts in obese persons are reduced, and results in reduced emptying of the gallbladder.
- Prescription drugs – including birth control pills, estrogen replacement, and ceftriaxone have been shown to produce higher incidents of gallstones.
Other causative factors may include gender, ethnicity and diabetes.
What not to Eat
Because of the high association of high fat, high cholesterol, and low fiber diets with gallstones, it is likely that a low fat, high fiber diet will greatly aid both in healing the gallbladder and avoiding gallbladder problems in the first place.
Foods to limit or avoid include:
- Saturated Fats – not all fat is bad, but you will want to be careful with saturated fats. These are the unhealthy fats that are found in palm oil, palm kernel oil, red meats, and processed dairy products.
- Sugar – too many sweets have also been linked to gallstones
- Carbohydrates – because these convert to sugar, carbohydrates, such as pasta, pastries, and white bread should also be limited.
- Unhealthy Meats and Fried food – anything fried, as well as luncheon meats, sausage, bacon, and heavily marbled meats are definite no-no’s for gallbladder conditions.
Gallbladder Diet – the Good Stuff
A person can still live well and eat delicious foods while caring for their gallbladder. Lean meats, poultry, and fish make great protein staples. In addition, the following are some great gallbladder diet tips:
- Fruits and Veggies – not only are these foods full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they are also excellent sources of healthy dietary fiber. Vitamin C may help the body metabolize cholesterol, reducing the tendency to form cholesterol-based gallstones.
- Plenty of Fiber – whole grains are great sources of fiber, which has been shown to help lower cholesterol and instance of gallstones.
- Coffee – caffeine has been shown to increase bile flow, and may reduce the chance of gallstones forming.
- Healthy Fats – monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, flaxseed, and avocados have been shown to be very beneficial.
Obviously, it is possible to eat well and stay well while protecting your gallbladder, you just have to make smart choices. A sample menu for a day might look something like this:
Handful of nuts
|Grilled chicken breast
Oven-baked potato fries
Whole-wheat dinner roll
Use the guidelines above to create your own gallbladder healthy menus. Not only will healthy choices protect your gallbladder, they may help maintain a healthy weight: an added bonus for your overall health.