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Cholecystitis, acute - Symptoms of acute cholecystitis

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The symptoms of acute cholecystitis usually begin with a sudden sharp pain in the upper abdomen (tummy) that spreads towards the shoulder blade.

You may experience similar pain during an episode of biliary colic. However, pain associated with acute cholecystitis is usually persistent, whereas the pain of biliary colic usually goes away within one to five hours. 

Read about the symptoms of gallstones for more information about biliary colic.

The affected section of the abdomen is usually extremely tender and breathing deeply can make the pain worse.

Other symptoms

In about one in four cases of acute cholecystitis, the gallbladder swells to such an extent that you will be able to feel a bulge. This happens about 24 hours after the pain started.

Other symptoms of acute cholecystitis include:

  • a high temperature (fever), which is usually mild and no higher than 38ºC (100.4ºF)
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting (being sick)
  • loss of appetite
  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)

When to seek medical advice

It is important to determine whether your symptoms are the result of biliary colic, which does not require immediate treatment, or acute cholecystitis, which does require urgent treatment. Acute cholecystitis can often be determined as the cause of your symptoms if:

  • you have a high temperature
  • your symptoms of pain have persisted for more than eight hours

If you have either of the above two symptoms, contact your GP immediately for advice. If this is not possible, phone your local out-of-hours service or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

If acute cholecystitis is not treated, there is an increased risk that complications will develop. It is important to get an expert opinion as soon as possible.

Medical Review: July 28, 2012
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