You can’t see or feel your gallbladder, but you sure can tell when you’re having problems with it. A gallbladder attack can make life miserable, causing sudden pain in your upper-right abdomen (which can extend to your right shoulder or chest), bloating, gas, nausea and vomiting.
A healthy gallbladder releases bile into the intestines to help your body digest food. A gallbladder attack occurs when gallstones—solid clumps of cholesterol crystals and other substances that collect in the gallbladder—cause pain. (Eating greasy or high-fat foods often triggers attacks.) However, only about 20 percent of people with gallstones, which range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball, have symptoms that require treatment.
If you experience pain, get tested. Most people with symptomatic gallstones have surgery to remove the gallbladder. (You can live a normal life without it.) And if pain during a gallbladder attack lasts more than an hour or two or if a fever accompanies the pain, get immediate medical help, since you may have an infection or inflammation that needs prompt care. You’re more likely to develop gallstones if you’re female; over age 60; Native American or Mexican-American; overweight; or on a low-calorie, rapid weight-loss diet; or if you’ve had bariatric surgery.
Keep your gallbladder healthy by losing excess weight, exercising regularly and getting no more than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat. If you need to shed pounds, lose weight slowly, sensibly and for good, since gaining and losing weight repeatedly also puts you at risk.