Symptoms of cholecystitis in women are not much different from those in men, as upper abdominal pain on the right side is one of the most common symptoms of an inflamed gallbladder for women.
Gallbladder symptoms are not limited to pain only, as many disturbing digestive symptoms usually accompany cholecystitis, often taking two to three days and appearing suddenly.
The gallbladder is a small organ located just below the liver. The gallbladder stores the bile juice produced by the liver until it is drained later through the bile duct connected to the gallbladder and flows into the intestines. Gallstones are among the most common causes of cholecystitis symptoms in women.
What are the symptoms of cholecystitis in women?
Women are more likely to develop cholecystitis than men, due to the effect of female hormones, specifically estrogen, in increasing the secretion of cholesterol, which in turn contributes to the formation of gallstones that cause inflammation.
Although acute abdominal pain is one of the most important and common symptoms of the gallbladder, many digestive system diseases may cause similar pain in the abdomen. Not every abdominal pain necessarily indicates cholecystitis. The problem may be in the liver, the appendix, or the colon and intestines.
The woman needs to be aware of the symptoms of cholecystitis to start treating the condition as soon as possible, for fear of the development of severe complications of the inflammation, such as rupture of the gallbladder, which poses a threat to the patient’s life. Symptoms of cholecystitis in women are one of the following:
- Severe, sharp pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Abdominal pain may radiate towards the right shoulder and become more intense when the abdomen is touched and pressed
- Feeling nauseous and wanting to vomit
- High temperature (fever)
- Heavy sweating
- quickness of Breath
If you feel one of these signs, seeing a doctor immediately to discover why these symptoms have occurred is best.
Symptoms of cholecystitis in pregnant women
Pregnant women are more likely to develop cholecystitis due to the hormonal changes in the female body during pregnancy, which incite the formation of stones in the gallbladder due to the increase of cholesterol.
8% of pregnant women will have new gallstones in the last trimester of pregnancy, but not all cases develop cholecystitis. Still, cholecystitis is limited to only 1% of these women due to obstruction of the bile duct with one of the gallstones, which leads to the symptoms of cholecystitis.
The symptoms of cholecystitis in pregnant women are usually similar to those in most women. Still, the typical symptoms of pregnancy (nausea and vomiting) may sometimes mix with the symptoms of cholecystitis, which leads to delays in making a diagnosis and starting treatment, in addition to the fact that the treatment method differs in Pregnant women from other women.
When a pregnant woman feels a sharp pain in the upper abdomen on the right side, along with fever, nausea, or vomiting, she should consult her doctor as early as possible.
Causes of cholecystitis in women
As mentioned, bile is secreted from the liver until it is excreted into the intestines through the bile ducts. The gallbladder becomes inflamed if the bile remains inside the gallbladder tissue due to the presence of an obstructive stone that prevents the exit of the bile fluid, which irritates the gallbladder wall. The causes include the following:
Stones are one of the most important and common causes of cholecystitis. When a large stone is formed and slides to block the bile duct, the pain begins in the upper abdomen, and other symptoms of cholecystitis develop over time.
Not all gallstones necessarily lead to cholecystitis. Small stones may form and pass independently without causing any symptoms or problems.
Benign or malignant gallbladder tumors may block the exit of bile, causing irritation and inflammation of the gallbladder tissue. However, this cause is less common, usually appears with other accompanying symptoms, and is very dangerous, especially in malignant gallbladder cancer.
Infection with a viral or bacterial infection in the biliary tract may lead to a defect in the bile-carrying network, which leads to a gathering of bile in the gallbladder and acute inflammation.
Diagnosis of cholecystitis in women
The specialist will ask you about the symptoms and the location and intensity of the pain; then, he will perform a physical examination and apply a maneuver known as Murphy's sign. It is done by putting a hand on the right side of the abdomen and ask the patient to take a deep breath , in the case of gallbladder inflammation, the patient feels severe pain due to the gallbladder falling (during inspiration) and colliding with the doctor's hand.
Other tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis of cholecystitis, including:
Elevated leukocyte counts and positivity for inflammatory markers support the diagnosis of cholecystitis, in addition to tests that assess liver function.
Through ultrasound imaging, signs of cholecystitis can be seen, or gallstones in the bile ducts can be detected.
How to treat cholecystitis in women
Treatment of cholecystitis usually requires a stay in the hospital until the inflammatory attack is under control. Treatment methods used include:
Stop eating or drinking
Patients with cholecystitis will be asked to stop eating and drinking to temporarily relieve the inflamed gallbladder until the inflammation is completely healed. A saline serum may be applied to the patient to ensure nutrients reach the body and prevent dehydration during this period.
Pain relieve medications
The use of analgesics helps relieve the symptoms of cholecystitis in women, as well as antibacterial drugs to prevent the spread of cholecystitis to neighboring areas in the abdomen, such as the pancreas.
Gallbladder removal surgery
Surgery to remove the gallbladder is the most effective treatment for managing gallbladder symptoms in women. The doctor may advise that the surgery be performed directly or within a period that usually does not exceed two days, as the determination of this depends on each condition and the patient’s readiness for the surgery.
Gallbladder surgery may be performed using minimally invasive methods, such as laparoscopic surgery, characterized by its low risk, ease of operation, and not requiring a long recovery time after the procedure. Read more about Laparoscopic cholecystectomy.
Breaking up gallstones without surgery
Non-surgical breaking up of gallstones is one option for treating small-sized gallstones with specific specifications, as this option cannot always be resorted to managing the symptoms of cholecystitis. Read more about Breaking up gallstones.
Complications of cholecystitis
When a woman neglects the symptoms of cholecystitis and leaves them without treatment, complications may occur, some of which are life-threatening, including:
- A collection of pus inside the gallbladder
- Gallbladder tissue death (gangrene)
- Gallbladder perforation and transmission of inflammation to adjacent tissues and organs in the abdomen
- Recurrence of gallbladder inflammation if not removed
Emergency surgery to remove the gallbladder must be performed if one of these complications occurs, and the earlier it is done, the better the chances of survival.
In the end, knowing the symptoms of cholecystitis in women allows early detection of it to seek treatment as soon as possible. Cholecystitis symptoms may be less obvious in a pregnant woman due to the mixing of typical signs of pregnancy with symptoms of cholecystitis. Therefore, it is always preferable to consult a doctor when noticing any inflammatory signs, especially upper abdominal pain.