Pain in the upper right abdomen may be an early sign of a gallbladder problem. A person may need gallbladder removal surgery if this pain worsens and other symptoms occur, such as skin yellowing and fever.

The gallbladder is a small structure located underneath the liver in the upper right of the abdomen. The body uses it as a pouch for storing bile. The liver produces bile to help the body break down dietary fats.

A person can develop painful gallstones in their gallbladder from an imbalance in the substances the liver uses to make bile.

The gallbladder is not essential for survival, so a doctor may recommend removal if a person experiences symptoms such as pain or infection.

This article outlines the signs that may indicate gallbladder removal is necessary.

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Common signs that a person has a problem with their gallbladder include:

  • sharp pain in the right upper abdomen
  • low grade fever
  • nausea and bloating
  • yellowing of the skin (jaundice) if the gallstones are in the common bile duct

The gallbladder can become inflamed if a gallstone blocks the cystic duct (the main outlet for the gallbladder). This condition is called acute cholecystitis.

The main symptom of acute cholecystitis is a sudden, sharp pain in the upper right abdomen that spreads to the right shoulder.

Other common symptoms include:

  • tenderness of the upper right abdomen
  • worsening pain when breathing deeply
  • persistent pain that does not go away within a few hours

Some people also experience the following:

  • fever
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sweating
  • loss of appetite
  • jaundice
  • abdominal swelling

Acute pancreatitis can also cause a person to develop severe pain in the center of their abdomen. The pain gradually worsens and can spread along the person’s back.

A person may also experience:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • indigestion
  • fever
  • jaundice
  • abdominal tenderness or swelling
  • rapid heart rate or breathing

A person can live a normal life without their gallbladder. Long-term effects from gallbladder removal surgery are unlikely.

However, some people may experience ongoing symptoms.

Doctors in the United States performed around 500,000 gallbladder removal surgeries a year in the late 1990s. At least 10% of people who underwent gallbladder removal developed post-cholecystectomy syndrome.

The condition causes persistent upper right abdominal pain and a range of gastrointestinal symptoms similar to those people typically experience before having their gallbladder removed.

Post-cholecystectomy syndrome can occur from problems unrelated to the gallbladder, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hepatitis, and diverticulitis. Persistent problems in the same surgical territory, like retained gallstones, strictures, or cystic duct remnants, may also cause it.

Doctors treat post-cholecystectomy syndrome according to the underlying cause. Treatment may include medications or surgery.

Having a single episode of gallstone pain does not necessarily mean a person will have another attack. However, one painful gallstone attack makes a person more likely to have another.

Not getting gallbladder removal surgery means a person has a higher risk of:

  • unpredictable attacks of gallstone pain
  • episodes of inflammation or severe infection of the gallbladder, bile ducts, or pancreas
  • jaundice and other symptoms due to common bile duct blockage

A person requires immediate medical attention for gallbladder problems if they are experiencing:

  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain lasting several hours
  • fever and chills
  • abdominal pain so intense that they are unable to move into a position to find relief

A person who has persistent pain in the upper right portion of their abdomen, even if mild, should also make an appointment to visit a doctor.

How do you know if your gallbladder needs to be taken out?

Some people with gallstones do not have any symptoms. They may not even know they have gallstones.

However, sometimes gallstones block bile flow and cause gallbladder inflammation (acute cholecystitis) or pancreas inflammation (acute pancreatitis). Several routine blood tests can help confirm whether a gallbladder obstruction is present or if the cause of a person’s symptoms is from something else.

Symptoms can include sudden, intense abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and jaundice. In many cases, the most effective treatment is gallbladder removal surgery.

What happens if you do not take out your gallbladder?

It depends on the severity of a person’s symptoms. Having one mild attack does not mean another attack will follow.

However, one or more painful episodes increase a person’s risk of future gallbladder attacks.

What does an inflamed gallbladder feel like?

Healthcare professionals refer to an inflamed gallbladder as acute cholecystitis. A person needs hospital treatment for this condition.

People with acute cholecystitis may feel a sudden, sharp pain in the upper right abdomen that spreads to the right shoulder. The upper right abdomen may also feel tender, with worsening pain while breathing deeply. The pain does not go away.

Some people might also feel:

  • feverish
  • sick
  • sweaty
  • a bulge in their abdomen
  • a loss of appetite

The body uses the gallbladder to store bile, which it needs to break down fats from food. Sometimes people develop an imbalance in the substances the liver uses to make bile, which can cause gallstones. Gallstones can obstruct bile drainage and lead to gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis).

Symptoms range in severity and can include upper right abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, and jaundice. If a person has more than one painful gallstone attack, they will likely need gallbladder removal surgery.