9 Gallbladder Attack Causes

Table of Contents
1. Common Gallbladder Attack Causes
2. Gallstones
3. Bile Duct Stones
4. Gallbladder Inflammation
5. Bile Duct Scars
6. Empyema or Abscess
7. Perforated Gallbladder
8. Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
9. Biliary Tract Cancer Such as Gallbladder Cancer
10. Eating Fatty Foods
11. What Foods Cause Gallbladder Attacks?

The gallbladder is a very small, pear-shaped organ located underneath your liver, on the right side of the abdominal area. Gallbladder attack causes can vary, but gallbladder attacks are almost always extremely painful. While a gallbladder attack eventually passes, it can last for hours, and the pain can sometimes be excruciating.

Your gallbladder is not a vital organ necessary for optimal health, which is why many people who frequently get painful gallbladder attacks get surgery to remove their gallbladder.

Although the gallbladder is not a vital organ, it is part of your body’s digestive machinery, as it’s responsible for storing bile, a greenish fluid secreted by the liver. Bile eventually goes into the small intestines to digest fats and vitamins from the food you eat.

Without a gallbladder, you can still live a healthy and normal life. You simply won’t get painful gallbladder attacks anymore. When you don’t have a gallbladder, the liver will just directly secrete the bile into the small intestines, which doesn’t have much impact on your digestive system. Check out this article that explains the various gallbladder attack symptoms to be aware of, as well as common treatment. For information about gallbladder attack causes, read on:

Common Gallbladder Attack Causes

You could often feel extreme pain in the upper right stomach area (directly below the breastbone) in the form of a gallbladder attack, when there’s something wrong with the gallbladder or bile ducts, such as an inflamed gallbladder or the presence of gallstones.

There are a myriad of potential reasons for why you’re getting these painful gallbladder attacks, so speaking with an endocrinologist is the first step to diagnose the problem. You may also be wondering what foods cause gallbladder attacks, and we’ll be addressing food as one of the prime gallbladder attack causes in this article.

The most common gallbladder attack cause include:

1. Gallstones

The primary reason for most gallbladder attacks is the presence of gallstones. The presence of these stones could be confirmed by an ultrasound or CT scan. The gallstones can block the proper flow of bile, and they can irritate or inflame the gallbladder, resulting in painful gallbladder attacks.

Gallstones form when digestive fluids pile up and harden in your gallbladder. This happens when there’s excessive fatty foods in your diet or excessive cholesterol, which eventually forms into stones. A gallstone ranges in size from the size of a grain of sand to the size of an M&M or even the size of a golf ball. Most people who have gallstones have multiple gallstones, as it’s rare to have just one.

However, according to Dr. David Efron, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins, finding out you have gallstones doesn’t always necessarily mean you need surgery to remove your gallbladder right away. In fact, he noted that gallstones are common in Western countries because people tend to consume more fatty and processed foods. Something as simple as modifying your diet could eliminate the issue of gallbladder attacks.

You could also pass a gallstone naturally without doing anything. You may feel temporary pain as it passes but once it has passed, the pain stops. Intense pain from a gallbladder attack should not be ignored. Go to the emergency room, and you may even be able to get emergency gallbladder removal surgery.

2. Bile Duct Stones

Bile duct stones are gallstones located in the bile duct. These stones might initially be present in the gallbladder, and move into the bile duct, but they can form in the bile duct itself.

In other words, stones may sometimes form in your bile ducts directly, or they could be gallstones that traveled and got stuck in the duct. When the stones are small, you won’t usually feel pain. However, when the stones grow in size and block the entire bile duct, it could result in serious stomach pain or gallbladder attacks that come and go, usually lasting for hours.

3. Gallbladder Inflammation

Cholecystitis or gallbladder inflammation could happen when bile builds up due to the presence of gallstones blocking the bile duct. Other culprits for inflammation of the gallbladder could be trauma to the area, illness, infection, or tumors. An inflamed gallbladder is swollen, and it will manifest as stomach pain, upper abdominal pain, or even pain in the back and right shoulder blade – also known as a painful gallbladder attack.

4. Bile Duct Scars

When your bile ducts narrow or become constricted due to the presence of gallstones and/or  bile duct stones, scar tissue may form in the bile duct. This scarring prevents the bile from properly flowing out of the liver and gallbladder into the small intestines. As a result, you may feel pain on the right side of your abdomen where these organs are located, in the form of a gallbladder attack. Apart from gallstones and bile duct stones, stomach injuries, past surgeries, infections, excessive alcohol consumption, and drugs could also cause similar bile duct scarring.

5. Empyema or Abscess

Gallbladder attack pain may also be due to a condition known as gallbladder abscess, another one of the gallbladder attack causes. This often results from an infection due to bile buildup. The primary culprit of this buildup is the stones that obstruct the ducts. Your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic for the infection, but if it’s resistant, the bile may need draining. If left untreated, the abscess could lead to peritonitis or a tear in the inside linings of the abdomen.

6. Perforated Gallbladder

When you’ve had gallstones for a while, they float and move around. Consequently, they could tear a hole into your organ, resulting in pain. This is rare but very dangerous. When you have nausea, fever, and vomiting accompanying belly pain, seek medical treatment immediately. The only cure for this is immediate surgery.

7. Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

When you have a liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC, it damages your bile ducts. This is a progressive disease that could start as gallbladder attack pain in the upper abdomen, and could eventually lead to liver failure.

8. Biliary Tract Cancer Such as Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer is quite rare, and it’s one of the ‘silent killer’ cancers that often goes unnoticed. Most people won’t notice any symptoms at all, until after the disease has spread to a near-fatal stage. Apart from stomach pain, the often ignored symptoms of gallbladder cancer include a very bright yellow color of urine, a bloated stomach, weight loss, and slight jaundice or yellowing of the eyes. When the skin turns yellow, the jaundice has progressed, and this is typically when people who have this rare form of cancer finally start to notice their symptoms. People who have a family history of gallstones, those who are overweight, or are older could be prone to biliary tract cancer.

9. Eating Fatty Foods

Certain foods, when eaten in excess, can increase your risk of getting gallstones and getting painful gallbladder attacks. Among the causes of gallbladder attacks, the foods you eat have a lot to do with it.

What Foods Cause Gallbladder Attacks?

Below are some examples of foods that can cause gallstones, an inflamed gallbladder, and gallbladder attacks:

  • Fatty, processed foods such as doughnuts, twinkies, cakes, etc.
  • Fried foods such as onion rings, mozzarella sticks, etc.
  • Fatty dairy products such as ice cream and butter.
  • Sugary foods and high cholesterol foods.

To avoid gallbladder attacks and gallstones, try to eat less foods high in saturated fat. Aim to eat lean meat, fish, whole grains, vegetables without a ton of butter on them, fruit, and other healthy foods. Avoid fried foods whenever possible, and try to stay away from packaged cookies, cakes or junk food.
A healthy diet can prevent many different health problems, including the prevention of gallstones and gallbladder attacks. To find out the optimal diet plan for you, based on your genetics, read your genetic diet and nutrition reports from CircleDNAafter taking this at-home DNA test.


  1. What Causes a Gallbladder Attack? (Johns Hopkins Medicine) https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/what-causes-a-gallbladder-attack

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