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Cholecystitis refers to a painful inflammation of the gallbladder's wall. The disorder can occur a single time (acute), or can recur multiple times (chronic).


The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in the upper right hand corner of the abdomen. It is connected by a series of ducts (tube-like channels) to the liver, pancreas, and duodenum (first part of the small intestine). To aid in digestion, the liver produces a substance called bile, which is passed into the gallbladder. The gallbladder concentrates this bile, meaning that it reabsorbs some of the fluid from the bile to make it more potent. After a meal, bile is squeezed out of the gallbladder by strong muscular contractions, and passes through a duct into the duodenum. Due to the chemical makeup of bile, the contents of the duodenum are kept at an optimal pH level for digestion. The bile also plays an important part in allowing fats within the small intestine to be absorbed.

Causes and symptoms

In about 95% of all cases of cholecystitis, the gallbladder contains gallstones. Gallstones are solid accumulations of the components of bile, particularly cholesterol, bile pigments, and calcium. These solids may occur when the components of bile are not in the correct proportion to each other. If the bile becomes overly concentrated, or if too much of one component is present, stones may form. When these stones block the duct leaving the gallbladder, bile accumulates within the gallbladder. The gallbladder continues to contract, but the bile cannot pass out of the gallbladder in the normal way. Back pressure on the gallbladder, chemical changes from the stagnating bile trapped within the gallbladder, and occasionally bacterial infection, result in damage to the gallbladder wall. As the gallbladder becomes swollen, some areas of the wall do not receive adequate blood flow, and lack of oxygen causes cells to die.
When the stone blocks the flow of bile from the liver, certain normal byproducts of the liver's processing of red blood cells (called bilirubin) build up. The bilirubin is reabsorbed into the bloodstream, and over time this bilirubin is deposited in the skin and in the whites of the eyes. Because bilirubin contains a yellowish color, it causes a yellowish cast to the skin and eyes that is called jaundice.
Gallstone formation is seen in twice as many women as men, particularly those between the ages of 20 and 60. Pregnant women, or those on birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy have a greater risk of gallstones, as do Native Americans and Mexican Americans. People who are overweight, or who lose a large amount of weight quickly are also at greater risk for developing gallstones. Not all individuals with gallstones will go on to have cholecystitis, since many people never have any symptoms from their gallstones and never know they exist. However, the vast majority of people with cholecystitis will be found to have gallstones. Rare causes of cholecystitis include severe burns or injury, massive systemic infection, severe illness, diabetes, obstruction by a tumor of the duct leaving the gallbladder, and certain uncommon infections of the gallbladder (including bacteria and worms).
Although there are rare reports of patients with chronic cholecystitis who never experience any pain, nearly 100% of the time cholecystitis will be diagnosed after a patient has experienced a bout of severe pain in the region of the gallbladder and liver. The pain may be crampy and episodic, or it may be constant. The pain is often described as pushing through to the right upper back and shoulder. Because deep breathing increases the pain, breathing becomes shallow. Fever is often present, and nausea and vomiting are nearly universal. Jaundice occurs when the duct leaving the liver is also obstructed, although it may take a number of days for it to become apparent. When bacterial infection sets in, the patient may begin to experience higher fever and shaking chills.


Diagnosis of cholecystitis involves a careful abdominal examination. The enlarged, tender gallbladder may be felt through the abdominal wall. Pressure in the upper right corner of the abdomen may cause the patient to stop breathing in, due to an increase in pain. This is called Murphy's sign. Physical examination may also reveal an increased heart rate and an increased rate of breathing.
Blood tests will show an increase in the white blood count, as well as an increase in bilirubin. Ultrasound is used to look for gallstones and to measure the thickness of the gallbladder wall (a marker of inflammation and scarring). A scan of the liver and gallbladder, with careful attention to the system of ducts throughout (called the biliary tree) is also used to demonstrate obstruction of ducts.
Rare complications of cholecystitis include:
  • massive infection of the gallbladder, in which the gallbladder becomes filled with pus (called empyema)
  • perforation of the gallbladder, in which the build-up of material within the gallbladder becomes so great that the wall of the organ bursts, with a resulting abdominal infection called peritonitis
  • formation of abnormal connections between the gallbladder and other organs (the duodenum, large intestine, stomach), called fistulas
  • obstruction of the intestine by a very large gallstone (called gallstone ileus)
  • emphysema of the gallbladder, in which certain bacteria that produce gas infect the gallbladder, resulting in stretching of the gallbladder and disruption of its wall by gas.


Initial treatment of cholecystitis usually requires hospitalization. The patient is given fluids, salts, and sugars through a needle placed in a vein (intravenous or IV). No food or drink is given by mouth, and often a tube, called a nasogastric or NG tube, will need to be passed through the nose and down into the stomach to drain out the excess fluids. If infection is suspected, antibiotics are given.
Ultimately, treatment almost always involves removal of the gallbladder, a surgery called cholecystectomy. While this is not usually recommended while the patient is acutely ill, patients with complications usually do require emergency surgery (immediately following diagnosis) because the death rate increases in these cases. Similarly, those patients who have cholecystitis with no gallstones have about a 50% chance of death if the gallbladder is not quickly removed. Most patients, however, do best if surgery is performed after they have been stabilized with fluids, an NG tube, and antibiotics as necessary. When this is possible, gallbladder removal is done within five to six days of diagnosis. In patients who have other serious medical problems that may increase the risks of gallbladder removal surgery, the surgeon may decide to leave the gallbladder in place. In this case, the operation may involve removing obstructing gallstones and draining infected bile (called cholecystotomy).
Both cholecystectomy and cholecystotomy may be performed via the classical open abdominal operation (laparotomy). Tiny, "keyhole" incisions, a flexible scope, and a laser device that shatters the stones (a laparoscopic laser) can be used to destroy the gallstones. The laparoscopic procedure can also be used to remove the gallbladder through one of the small incisions. Because of the smaller incisions, laparoscopic cholecystectomy is a procedure that is less painful and promotes faster healing.


Hospital management of cholecystitis ends the symptoms for about 75% of all patients. Of these patients, however, 25% will go on to have another attack of cholecystitis within a year, and 60% will have another attack within six years. Each attack of cholecystitis increases a patient's risk of developing life-threatening complications, requiring risky emergency surgery. Therefore, early removal of the gallbladder, rather than a "wait-and-see" approach, is usually recommended. Cure is complete in those patients who undergo cholecystectomy.


Prevention of cholecystitis is probably best attempted by maintaining a reasonably ideal weight. Some studies have suggested that eating a diet high in fiber, vegetables, and fruit is also protective.



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Key terms

Bile — A substance produced by the liver, and concentrated and stored in the gallbladder. Bile contains many different substances, including bile salts, cholesterol, and bilirubin. After a meal, the gallbladder pumps bile into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) to keep the intestine's contents at the appropriate pH for digestion, and to help break down fats.
Bilirubin — Produced when red blood cells break down. It is a yellowish color and when levels are abnormally high, it causes the yellowish tint to eyes and skin known as jaundice.
Cholecystectomy — An operation to remove the gallbladder.
Cholecystotomy — An operation during which the gallbladder is opened, gallstones are removed, and excess bile is drained. The gallbladder is not removed.
Duct — A tube through which various substances can pass. These substances can travel through ducts to another organ or into the bloodstream.


inflammation of the gallbladder, acute or chronic.
Acute Cholecystitis. The most frequent cause of acute cholecystitis is gallstones. Other causes include typhoid fever and a malignant tumor obstructing the biliary tract. The inflammation may be secondary to a systemic sepsis.

The symptoms of a mild inflammation may be very slight and include indigestion, moderate pain and tenderness in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen that is usually aggravated by deep breathing, malaise, and a low-grade fever. When gallstones or other disorders cause complete obstruction of the bile ducts, the symptoms are much more extreme. The pain becomes unbearable, the temperature may rise to 40°C (104°F), and there is nausea and vomiting.

Treatment of acute cholecystitis may entail either cholecystectomy or cholecystostomy. In some cases the surgery may be postponed until the attack subsides.
Chronic Cholecystitis. Chronic cholecystitis progresses more slowly than acute cholecystitis, but it also is usually the result of gallstones or other conditions that lead to obstruction of the bile ducts and impaired gallbladder function. It is the most common disorder of the gallbladder.

The characteristic symptom of chronic cholecystitis is indigestion manifested by discomfort after eating, with flatulence and nausea. If the meal has been larger than usual, or high in fat content, the symptoms are more pronounced and there is eructation (belching) and regurgitation. There may also be vomiting and some pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It is not unusual for patients to suffer repeated episodes before seeking medical attention. Neglect of the situation may lead to permanent damage to the gallbladder and liver.

Diagnosis of cholecystitis is aided by the use of ultrasonography to visualize an enlarged, inflamed gallbladder and detect the presence of gallstones. Radionuclide scanning is the most reliable diagnostic test for cholecystitis.

The preferred treatment of chronic cholecystitis with gallstones is cholecystectomy. If surgery is contraindicated for some reason, then the symptoms may be controlled to some extent by low-fat diet, restriction of alcohol intake, and spacing of meals so that large amounts of food are avoided and there is not a long interval between meals.
emphysematous cholecystitis that due to gas-producing organisms, marked by gas in the gallbladder lumen, often infiltrating into the gallbladder wall and surrounding tissues.


Inflammation of the gallbladder.
[chole- + G. kystis, bladder, + -itis, inflammation]


/cho·le·cys·ti·tis/ (-sis-ti´tis) inflammation of the gallbladder.
emphysematous cholecystitis  that due to gas-producing organisms, marked by gas in the gallbladder lumen, often infiltrating into the gallbladder wall and surrounding tissues.


Inflammation of the gallbladder.


Etymology: Gk, chole + kystis, bag, itis, inflammation
acute or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder. Acute cholecystitis is usually caused by a gallstone that cannot pass through the cystic duct. Pain is felt in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, accompanied by nausea, vomiting, eructation, and flatulence. The patient may exhibit a positive Murphy's sign. Diagnosis is usually made with ultrasound. Surgery is the preferred mode of treatment. Chronic cholecystitis, the more common type, has an insidious onset. Pain, often felt at night, may follow a fatty meal. Complications include biliary calculi, pancreatitis, and carcinoma of the gallbladder. Again surgery is the preferred treatment. See also biliary calculus, cholecystectomy, cholelithiasis.
observations Common manifestations for cholecystitis may range from indigestion to moderate to severe abdominal or shoulder pain accompanied by fever and jaundice. Symptoms for acute cholecystitis include colicky pain in right upper quadrant and right lower scapula, nausea and vomiting, and low-grade fever. Manifestations indicative of chronic cholecystitis include anorexia, flatulence, nausea, fat intolerance, episodic or diffuse abdominal pain, and heartburn. The gallbladder may be palpable, and palpation of right upper quadrant may elicit tenderness and stoppage of inspiration (Murphy's sign). History may show ingestion of a large fatty meal before onset of pain. Ultrasonography is often performed initially to visualize gallstones. A nuclear imaging (hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid scan) is useful in diagnosing acute cholecystitis. Necrosis and perforation of the gallbladder with generalized peritonitis, cholangitis with or without septic shock, pancreatitis, biliary cirrhosis, and bowel obstruction with perforation and peritonitis are all complications of biliary disease.
interventions Conservative treatment of a cholecystitis attack includes control of pain, prevention of infection, and maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance. Gastric decompression to reduce stimulation of the gallbladder may be indicated for control of severe nausea and vomiting. Antiinfective drugs are used to prevent infection, analgesics to treat pain, anticholinergics to reduce secretions, and antispasmodics to reduce smooth muscle spasms. Fat soluble vitamins and bile salts may also be prescribed. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy may be indicated to remove the gallbladder in acute disease. Endoscopic balloon or basket procedures may be used to remove stones. An endoscope retrograde cholangiopancreatography with or without stent placements and sphincterotomy may be used to extract ductal stones. Pulverization of stones by lithotripsy or dissolution of stones by oral ursodiol or methyl terbutyl instilled into gallbladder may also be used.
nursing considerations Acute care is directed towards pain relief and fluid and electrolyte management. Preoperative care includes education about the surgical experience and reduction of anxiety about impending surgery. Post-operative care focuses on pain management, adequate ventilation, and prevention of postsurgical complications, such as bleeding or infection of surgical site. Education for those with an intact gallbladder includes instruction in a low-fat diet, institution of a consistent exercise program, and maintenance of normal weight. Any weight loss needs to be done slowly (1 to 2 lb a week) to prevent sludgy bile. If stones have been removed, the individual needs to understand that stones can recur and that medical follow-up is necessary.
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Acute cholecystitis


Inflammation of the gallbladder.

Acute cholecystitis
Clinical findings
Right upper quadrant pain, variable severity, sudden onset, rigidity and rebound tenderness with peritonitis, nausea, vomiting, constipation, fever, slow pulse, Murphy sign; spontaneous remission is not uncommon.
Stones by ultrasound, plain films, CT.
Chronic cholecystitis
Classically occurs in overweight child-bearing women over age forty; cholecystitis is also associated with oral contraceptives and heredity.
Clinical findings
Some patients are asymptomatic; otherwise the symptoms of acute inflammation wax and wane.
Bilirubin or cholesterol stones by ultrasound, plain films, CT.
Conservative therapy to dissolve stones.


GI disease Inflammation of the gallbladder. See Acalculous cholecystitis, Acute cholecystitis, Chronic cholecystitis, Emphysematous cholecystitis.
Acute Clinical Right upper quadrant pain, variable severity, sudden onset, rigidity and rebound tenderness with peritonitis, N&V, constipation, fever, slow pulse, Murphy sign, spontaneous remission is not uncommon Imaging Stones by ultrasound, plain films, CT Management Cholecystectomy
Chronic 'Classically' occurs in the '4 F' group–female, fat, fertile, and forty; cholecystitis is also associated with oral contraceptives and heredity Clinical Some Pts are asymptomatic; otherwise the symptoms of acute inflammation wax and wane Imaging Bilirubin or cholesterol stones by ultrasound, plain films, CT Management Conservative therapy to dissolve stones


Inflammation of the gallbladder.
[chole- + G. kystis, bladder, + -itis, inflammation]


Inflammation of the gall bladder. This common condition is nearly always associated with obstruction to the outflow from the gall bladder, usually by a gallstone but sometimes by thickened mucus or a worm or, rarely, by cancer. There is severe pain under the right lower ribs, fever, shivering, restlessness, pallor, vomiting and sweating. JAUNDICE may occur. Treatment is with antibiotics, bed rest, pain relief and fluids followed by surgical removal of the gall bladder.

cholecystitis (kō·lē·sis·tīˑ·tis),

n condition marked by chronic or acute gallbladder inflammation.


inflammation of the gallbladder.
References in periodicals archive ?
While acute cholecystitis is not an uncommon entity for which the diagnosis is usually made promptly, gallbladder perforation resulting from prolonged obstruction of the cystic duct is rarely seen.
Gallbladder perforation (GBP) is a rare and life-threatening complication of acute cholecystitis.
Cholecystectomy, whether open or laparoscopic, is the treatment of choice for cholelithiasis with chronic cholecystitis.
Acalculous acute cholecystitis during the course of typhoid fever in children.
Acute cholecystitis (AC) is a common complication of gallstone disease and accounts for 3%to9% of all hospital admissions for acute abdominal pain.
Xanthogranulomatous cholecystitis versus gallbladder carcinoma.
Subtotal cholecystectomy and open total cholecystectomy: alternatives in complicated cholecystitis.
Key Words: Histopathology, Cholecystitis, Carcinoma gall bladder
Acute cholecystitis was treated with a full course of antibiotics and patients who responded were booked for the LC on the next available elective list a few weeks after discharge.
Acute cholecystitis is the rarest complication of scarlet fever--very few cases have been reported so complication of scarlet fever--very few cases have been reported so far.
Medical textbooks describe a typical cholecystitis sufferer rather unflatteringly as "female, fair, fat and 40".
His family, as well as the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), said that "he is suffering from cholecystitis, which can endanger his life".