calling all gallbladders

Ok friends.  Several regular visitors to this blog have had gallbladder disease.  I need your input.  Tell me about your early symptoms.  I know that’s not always easy, since those of us with chronic health issues tend to blow off, minimize, or otherwise downplay (and ignore) new and subtle symptoms.  So if you can’t recall the super early stages, I understand.  I know what an attack of acute gallbladder pain looks like.  I’m not so sure about the grinding day to day of smoldering or building gallbladder disease.  And I’d like to because I’d like to know how hard to push on looking into this nausea and upper abdominal pain that is becoming a daily thing.

My ECBF (ex cohabitating boyfriend) had gallstones that got him all screwed up for a bit.  They presented themselves loudly shortly after a Halloween party one year.  We had eaten loads of nummy things that night, including stuffed mushrooms, which could quite accurately be described as mushroom coated fat balls (butter and I believe the stuffing had sausage in it).  He woke up in the middle of the night with horrible abdominal pain, power-puking several times, diaphoretic, and just plain ol’sick as a dog.  We thought maybe he had food poisoning at first, but the pain was so intense and a puking type 1 diabetic is a bad thing, so I took him to the ED.  Pancreatitis, said the labwork.  He was admitted to Ye Olde New England Outback Memorial Hospitale for a week while the Olde Timey Gastroenterologist did some tests, including a HIDA scan.  While the doc was competent enough to order it, he was not competent enough to interpret it.  The results were “within normal limits” and so the Olde Timey doc ruled out gallbladder and called it diabetic gastroparesis.  Big surprise, an MRI a month later confirmed that the ECBF had gallstones.  Reflecting on the months leading up to the pancreatitis, ECBF did have symptoms.  He’d feel sick, need to lay down, usually after he’d been over at the family’s house (eating bad things).  We only put that together after the fact.  And while ECBF certainly complained about his state in the interim, it was hard to get a sense of timing of symptoms since he was treating his gut and gallbladder so badly during that whole period.  He continued to eat food that seemed to trigger or worsen his symptoms – often at the urging of his evil family.  It was like watching an afterschool special, where the schoolyard “bad kids” were his parents and uncles and instead of trying to get him to smoke a cigarette, they were trying to get him to eat bacon cheeseburgers and wash them down with a few shots of whiskey.  Basically, they were a family with a family-wide eating disorder on top of family-wide alcoholism.  DEEEEElightful people.  So against that backdrop, it was hard to tell what the bare bones symptoms of ECBF’s gallbladder ailment were.  You know?  I mean, it’s like you have a rash on your arm that has some nice specific characteristics, but then you take flame thrower to it and then you go to the dermatologist and say “hey what’s causing this rash on my arm?”

So I’m asking you.  I know at least two of you have had gallbladder disease, Mo and Ana…and probably others, forgive me if I’ve forgotten.  If you don’t mind, let me know what it feels like in a person who is not filling their guts full of badness.  What’s it like when you’re doing the best you can to take care of yourself but still have this happening anyhow.  For me, whatever is going on, it’s daily nausea that reaches crazy levels and that somewhat strangely seems relieved by eating.  It comes back/starts up again within about an hour of eating, building up to the crazy bad again.  The pain is sharp and very much in the upper abdomen, so upper that it feels like I should call it my “lower chest”.  I suppose it’s properly “epigastric”.

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  1. The only good thing about gallbladder bullshit is that if you need surgery, it is usually a breeze for most people. Here’s is my story: I have always had nausea because of all my G.I. problems, but this was like food poisoning nausea. It was so awful that sometimes I would just lay down on the floor where ever I was. I developed a weird pain, almost like a really bad ache on my left side. I kept telling the doctor that if felt like it was right “behind” my left breast. Because the pain is supposed to be on the right side, they had no idea what was wrong. Finally after months, he sent me for a CAT scan or something, and they saw the gallstone. I had one gigantic one, they had to crack it to get it out, and they gave it to me. I’ll see if I can find it and post a picture. This was when the laproscopic surgery was brand new, I had to “shop” for a surgeon. I found a few surgeons that had only done one or two, so I stayed away from them. Finally found one that had done 14 of the new surgeries, and then I had to go to a hospital that was quite a ways from where I live. Because it was such a new procedure I had a hard time with recovery, but it worked. I think you need to have the possibility of gallstones checked out, I know some people get such severe pain that they end up in the ER because they think they are having a heart attack. Good luck with this friend. Keep us posted.

    • Mo, thank you for the info! Yes, laps are a hell of a lot better than the alternative. I’ve had a few for the endometriosis stuff. Still brutal to the body, but not quite as traumatic. I’ve heard that about the severe pain. Ex mother in law had an attack that she thought was a heart attack. I know it can be really awful pain and I am hoping this does NOT happen.

  2. Hey D,
    I know I’m not a gallbladder person and don’t mean to minimize your symptoms, but are you on a PPI? If so, disregard this unless it’s not a super strong one. I had a history of gastritis (erosive type) and massive gastric ulcers–part DNA and part daily Aspirin use. The upper abdominal pain and “pain subsiding after eating” makes sense with that. I was actually asymptomatic pain-wise w/the stomach full of ulcers. I never had nausea/vomiting, but that does occur w/gastritis and it would be nasty stuff coming up for sure. I had it affecting the other end (rather not go into detail there, but lots of acid-y, weird stuff involved). Just passing that one on…

    • Oh boy am I on PPIs. I’ve been on them since they’ve been around to be on. And before that, I was on the H2 blocker stuff, Zantac, tagamet, and the gang. But I’m told I’ve had mild to moderate gastritis on endoscopy, and more recently, a few polyps (benign, and probably from the PPIs I’m told). I know what the gastritis pain feels like, for me, it’s more a gnawing/punched pain. At first, I thought this was gastritis. The pain as my stomach gets emptier is a similar pattern. But if that’s what this is, it’s to a level I’ve never had before. And I’m on 40 mg of pantoprazole a day, and I’ve even cut chocolate and tomato out of my diet so if anything, I’d have thought that would have gotten better. But I suppose it could be. (eyes cup of coffee warily)

      • Hmmm. Seems it must be something else. Remember Zantac and all those back in the day! Lol. That’s Protonix you’re on and my dad takes a double dose due to massive upper GI issues (mainly GERD/massive heartburn). It’s strong, but I was on a stronger one (can’t think of the name now!). I’d presume that would protect you from everything. It is a “gnawing pain” for sure. Remember that w/the bad gastritis (I was all raw in that scope). Wonder why it gets better with eating? I wish I could tell you what a stomach full of ulcers feels like, but the doc said 25% of us are asymptomatic pain-wise. How weird is that? Good thing I got the scope done as I didn’t think it was needed! I can’t even take an Advil (owww). Probably should have read all your other comment 1st–sorry if I’m repeating anything here! Hope you get a quick Dx… 🙂

  3. Anaphylaxing

     /  March 11, 2013

    Hey, in retrospect, it started with nausea after meals, especially ones with fat in them. That went on for months. I think there was an increase in generalized dyspepsia. Then “attacks” started. At first I thought it was allergy because everything was. Intense heartburn and flushing followed by a constant, crescendoing boring pain in my RUQ. Started ~45 mins. Built up to 12 hours with wretching. No relief with position, eating not eating. Then would suddenly ease as the gallbladder relaxed and I’d pass out. I was focally tender over the RUQ during attacks, severely so, and this at first would last for a few days. Then after the 12 th attack the dull ache and tenderness never went away and I officially became a member of the chronic cholecystitis club. Initially going to a no fat diet helped, but eventually I had an attack with even with no fat. Eating tiny meals, or liquid meals seemed to prevent them for a few months–no fat sources at all including no animal protein of any kind even if fat free. Good times.

    The way you say prior to eating, relieved by eating makes me worry about an ulcer or gastritis which you probably already thought of. You’ve been scoped before? Though I realize people like us don’t follow rules of standard expectations. If it was me with that right now, I’d revert to my rice, potatoes, banana diet with tiny portions spread throughout the day, heaps of water, sleep with HOB at 45, no eating 4 hours before bed and see if things improved at all before I’d go for a scope. Then I’d try Ranitidine/Zantac or I guess since I’m on it already I’d double it for awhile to see if it helped. My spouse needed a PPI to control his GERD.

    I hope it’s not your gallbladder!!!

  4. Ana, thank you. Passing out = not good. Jeez, I’m so glad you got that thing out. I put ECBF on a low fat/no animal fat diet and it helped alot, when he followed it. I do think the pattern is more gastritis-like than gallbladder. Hoping it’s that? What a thing to hope for.

    • I mean I’m hoping it’s gastritis….because it suggests I could manage it with meds and diet. Although god knows what kind of diet I’m going to end up with. Plain rice perhaps.

  5. Anaphylaxing

     /  March 12, 2013

    I know exactly what you mean. Ick. I hope it’s freak events that will disappear quietly into the night? How’s that for realistic?


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