The gallbladder is a small organ located in the right abdomen that releases bile to aid digestion. In rare cases, calcium deposits can cause the lining to become brittle and hard, a condition known as porcelain gallbladder.

Many people with porcelain gallbladder do not know they have the condition. A doctor may discover it in an imaging test for other conditions. If a person does develop symptoms, they may experience pain, nausea, and bloating.

This article reviews in more detail what porcelain gallbladder is, who it affects, its symptoms, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
Doctor checking x-ray imagesShare on Pinterest
Getty Images

Porcelain gallbladder is a condition in which the inner lining of the gallbladder becomes covered with calcium. The calcification may cover the entire surface or only a part of it.

When it occurs, it causes the lining to become hardened and brittle. It may also have a bluish tint.

It often does not cause any symptoms. Instead, a doctor may discover the condition during an imaging test.

Learn more about conditions of the gallbladder.

Porcelain gallbladder is a rare condition that affects less than 1% of the population.

It typically affects more females than males, and people over age 60 years have a higher risk of developing the condition.

Also, a person with gallstones has a higher chance of developing the condition, particularly if they have had them for a long time. People at risk of gallstones include those:

  • with obesity
  • with diabetes
  • who have experienced dramatic weight loss or are fasting

Read about gallstones.

Porcelain gallbladder does not typically show signs and symptoms. In fact, most people find out they have it during an imaging test, looking for other issues.

When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • dull pain in the right upper abdomen that worsens either at night or after eating fatty foods
  • bloating and flatulence
  • nausea
  • occasional vomiting
  • feeling a hard, enlarged gallbladder on physical examination

Read about gallbladder pain.

Diagnosis typically occurs incidentally when a person gets an abdominal X-ray or CT scan. They may use an MRI or ultrasound as well.

When symptoms occur, a doctor can often diagnose porcelain gallbladder with an ultrasound.

There are no lab tests to check for the condition. A person’s tests will generally come back within normal ranges.

Porcelain gallbladder develops slowly over time.

Substances in the bile of the gallbladder reach concentrations where they no longer absorb into liquid form. Over time, the substances start to form crystals that become stuck in the gallbladder bile, forming a sort of sludge.

The progression of this process likely leads to calcification of the gallbladder.

Read about gallbladder sludge.

Some evidence suggests that porcelain gallbladder can lead to an increased risk of gallbladder cancer.

A study from 2021 notes that porcelain gallbladder is not likely any more of a risk factor for cancer than gallstones. Still, they recommend a cholecystectomy or removal of the gallbladder.

A person may also develop symptoms such as pain in the abdomen when it occurs.

Read about gallbladder cancer.

Treatment recommendations may vary among healthcare professionals.

Some believe that cases of asymptomatic porcelain gallbladder be left as is, with no treatment and routine ultrasounds to monitor the gallbladder.

Others suggest that, due to the risk of possibly developing gallbladder cancer, a doctor should perform a cholecystectomy.

Most surgeons recommend the removal of the gallbladder through a laparoscopic procedure. This is a minimally invasive procedure that has largely replaced an open cholecystectomy.

The outlook for those with porcelain gallbladder is generally positive. Overall, the outlook is the same as for anyone else who undergoes a cholecystectomy.

People who have gallbladder cancer may have a more negative prognosis. The 5-year survival rates for gallbladder cancer at different stages are:

  • stage 1: 50%
  • stage 2: 28%
  • stage 3: 8%
  • stage 4: 2%

Several factors affect survival rates, including age, cancer stage, and overall health. These numbers represent the total number of people still alive 5 years from diagnosis. A doctor will have a better idea of a person’s chances of undergoing successful treatment.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about porcelain gallbladder.

Is porcelain gallbladder precancerous?

Porcelain gallbladder is a risk factor for gallbladder cancer. Earlier studies indicated a higher risk than more recent studies, but experts still recommend removing the gallbladder as a preventive measure.

What are the symptoms of a porcelain gallbladder?

Porcelain gallbladder may not cause any symptoms. When they occur, symptoms may include upper right abdominal pain or discomfort, nausea, and bloating.

What are the complications of porcelain gallbladder?

Porcelain gallbladder can increase a person’s risk of developing gallbladder cancer. A person also often has gallstone formation when it occurs.

Porcelain gallbladder is a rare condition where calcium builds up on the gallbladder walls. It leads to a brittle, hard lining in the gallbladder and may cause symptoms such as pain in the upper right abdomen.

The condition is a risk factor for gallbladder cancer.

Treatment typically involves removing the gallbladder. This can alleviate symptoms and help prevent cancer from developing.

The outlook for porcelain gallbladder is generally positive as long as it does not develop into gallbladder cancer.