Ever heard of biliary colic? It can cause severe pain and discomfort for you. You need to listen to your body for the symptoms to take appropriate steps. It starts as a dull pain the upper right area or the middle of the abdomen. Pain always causes hindrance in achieving your maximum potential. So, let’s delve deep into the issue.
What Exactly Is Biliary Colic?
It is the pain caused by the gallstone that blocks the bile duct. Your body has the bile duct to drain the bile produced from the gallbladder. It gets drained into the small intestine. The gallbladder is not an essential organ of the body. It does not support the digestive system in a significant manner. The biliary colic pain goes away once the gallstones pass into the small intestine. So, with the unblocking of the duct, you may feel relieved. But, in some cases the issue is chronic. So, the gallstones may not pass easily. In such cases, the removal of the gallbladder is the only option.
What Causes Biliary Colic?
The main cause associated with biliary colic is the presence of Gallstones. Gallstones are the common problem associated with the gallbladder. The condition is either silent with no symptoms or has severe pain. The gallstones are crystals that are made of cholesterol in your body. It is either formed in your bile duct or the gallbladder. The size of the gallstone may vary from pebble-sized to large-sized. When it causes blockage in the duct, you experience the biliary colic.
The Association Of Gallstones And Biliary Colic
If you have gallstones, it does not mean you have biliary colic. But, your probability of getting the biliary colic is high with the gallstones. So, the conditions are related to one another. Some people may have the pain but without gallstones. In common cases, the gallstone can cause bile duct blockage resulting in the pain.
The Main Causes Of Biliary Colic
The main cause of biliary colic is the gallstones. It is the hard mass formed in your gallbladder. The size of the gallstones always varies. So, it is small, medium, or large sized. The chemical imbalances in our bile are the main cause of gallstone formation. The incomplete or infrequent emptying of the bile also results in the stones. The increased pressure on the gallbladder due to various reasons results in discomfort. So, you can experience biliary colic with the following causes:
Obstruction Of Bile Duct
The common bile duct can get obstructed by the gallstones. It can lead to the disruption of normal bile flow into the intestine. So, your muscle cells in the bile duct contract forcefully. It is to move the stone from the duct. But, the excess pressure can result in biliary colic. Other reasons are the attack on the bile duct or tumor formation in the bile duct. It causes blockage of bile flow resulting in severe pain.
Cystic Duct Obstruction
The cystic duct is an important aspect in your digestive function. It has the function of transferring bile between the common ducts and the gallbladder. The gallstones can enter the cystic duct. So, it prevents the bile flow. It increases the pressure on the gallbladder. Hence, it results in swelling and biliary colic.
Acalculous Biliary Pain
The functional disorders of the biliary tract can result in the acalculous pain. It is also known as the pain without stones. So, without the gallstones obstructing the bile duct, you can feel a severe pain. It is most common in people who have removed their gallbladder. Hence, the post-cholecystectomy patients are more prone to such pain.
Symptoms Associated With Biliary Colic
You need to know the signs that can point towards biliary colic. So, you can experience the following symptoms with the complication.
You can feel immense pain at the middle or the right upper part of the abdomen. The location of the pain is mostly below the breastbone. The pain you can experience can range from sharp, cramping pain to the dull ache that is constant. At times, the pain can spread towards your shoulder blades.
Time And Duration Of The Pain
You can experience it mostly in the evening or night time. It is more severe after you have a heavy dinner. It can last up to thirty minutes to an hour. But, you may feel a dull ache for several hours.
Nausea Or Vomiting
You can feel nauseated or vomiting feeling. You may need to take over-the-counter medications to get relief.
The biliary colic may accompany with the yellowing of eyes or skin. So, may get jaundice alone with the pain.
Risk Factors Associated With Biliary Colic
Gallstones are the primary cause of biliary colic. Everyone is likely to get gallstones, but some people are more prone to it. The following factors have a direct association with the gallstones.
The gender is one of the major factors that influence the development of gallstones. So, women have more probability to end up with the gallstones. Men have fewer chances to get the issue. It is because of the presence of female sex hormone estrogen. Estrogen can enhance the cholesterol levels in the blood. So, it reduces the movement in the gallbladder. Hence, the estrogen can accelerate the formation of gallstones.
If you have a family history of gallstones, you are more at risk. The genetics plays an important part in the formation of gallstones.
Pregnancy can increase the estrogen levels in women. The estrogen-based contraceptive can also lead to the gallstone formation.
People above the age of 40 can get the gallstones. But, with the increasing change in diet, people in their 30s can also get the problem.
People who belong to the Mexican American or Native American ethnicity can get gallstones. Though the other group is at risk, it more for the specific ethnicity.
Gallstone formation is also associated with the excess body weight. Obese or overweight people have high cholesterol levels in the bile. So, it increases the chance of stone formation. Another issue is the rapid weight loss. It can result in the increased cholesterol levels in the bile.
Diabetes of insulin resistance is another issue that affects the gallstone formation. Diabetes can cause inflammation of the pancreas. So, it can cause problems in the other organs like the liver or gastrointestinal organs. It results in gallstone formation. Diabetes can also increase the cholesterol levels and obesity. Hence, it can lead to gallstones.
Diet can also influence the gallstones formations. So, you need to have a healthy diet to ensure overall health. A good diet is rich in whole-grain carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, and fruits. You need to avoid the diet that has the following to avoid gallstones:
- A diet high in calories. So, you need to avoid foods that have more processed carbohydrates. It can result in Crohn’s disease, which can lead to the formation of gallstones. Try to avoid eating white bread or sweets as it contains high levels of processed carbohydrates.
- Food without the bran. Therefore, polished white rice has refined carbohydrates that can increase the chances of gallstone formation.
- Including food that has a lot of saturated fat. The high saturated fat content can increase the cholesterol levels in the bile. Hence, it can lead to gallstone formation. You need to skip foods like butter, cakes, or pastries. You also need to avoid fatty meats like sausages.
Health Risks With Biliary Colic
Apart from the severe pain, the blockage of bile ducts is a severe condition. The prolonged blocking can lead to infection or other complications.
The infection may affect organs like bile ducts, gallbladder, or the liver. The blockage can cause inflammation or swelling. The condition is known as cholecystitis. You need immediate medical attention for the health condition. The condition can cause biliary colic. But, the symptoms are more severe. The symptoms that last longer include:
- Abdominal pain that worsens with each day
- Fever or flu-like chills
- Vomiting and/or Nausea
- Jaundice causing yellowish tinge to eyes and skin
- Pale Stools
- Tea-colored urine
Another issue that can arise due to the blocking of the duct is pancreatitis. It happens with the gallstone blocking the duct. So, it restricts the bile flow from the pancreas to the intestine. It results in the inflammation of the pancreas. If left untreated, it is a life-threatening condition. So, you need to look out for the symptoms that are similar to biliary colic:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Rapid Pulse
- Feeling abdominal pain after eating
- Abdominal pain radiating to the back
You need to seek the doctor’s appointment to get necessary treatment immediately. Hence, you can avoid the complexities associated with the conditions.
Diagnosing Biliary Colic
If you feel like you have biliary colic, you need to see your doctor. Your doctor may try to understand your medical history. Your doctor can suggest other tests to confirm the diagnosis. It will help develop a treatment plan that will alleviate your pain.
The lab test for biliary colic is usually normal. So, it has little or no use. But, it can determine the presence of other complication like acute cholecystitis. The lab reports shed light on the following:
- Serum Aminotransferase
- Amylase Levels
For biliary colic, the levels show normal levels. But, variation is found with other underlying conditions.
It is the standard imaging test that can detect the presence of gallstones. Your doctor may use the wand across the belly area. The sound waves present in the want bounces off your inner organs. So, your doctor can see your abdomen area clearly. It will help reveal the presence of gallstones (if any) and its size.
The HIDA (Hepatobiliary Iminodiacetic Acid) scan uses the radioactive material to create pictures of the different organs. So, your doctor may suggest the scan to check the condition of the small intestine, biliary tract, gallbladder, liver, etc. It can help your doctor track the bile production and the flow. So, the flow from the liver to the small intestine will reveal the presence of gallstones. It is the ideal diagnostic tool to detect biliary colic.
It is the specialized x-ray procedure that can detect the presence of gallstones. So, your doctor may suggest the x-ray to get the better view of your gallbladder.
The computed tomography scan offers a detailed image of the abdominal organs. So, using the CT scan your doctor can detect the presence of the gallstones.
Treatment Of Biliary Colic
Your doctor can opt several treatments methods to heal the biliary colic. The main method is to remove the gallbladder. Another option is to break up or dissolve the gallstones. But the dissolving method is not that effective. The gallstones may return after a few years.
The first step your doctor may adopt is the medication. The pain medication relieves biliary colic.
A healthy diet with low-fat along with medication can cause drastic transformation. It can alleviate the biliary colic.
It is the laparoscopic surgery that is minimally invasive. The keyhole surgery is an outpatient procedure. So, you need not stay in the hospital.
In some cases, your doctor may not opt for the laparoscopic surgery. So, you need to undergo the open surgery. It involves making an incision in the abdominal area to remove the gallbladder. You need to stay in the hospital for recovering.
If surgery is not an option, your doctor can suggest medication. The medication can dissolve the gallstones. It is helpful for lasting biliary colic. But, the downside of the method is it is expensive. So, it takes a huge amount of money. The time taken for the medication to work is also long.
Lithotripsy is the shock-wave therapy. It can break up the gallstones. So, a professional can aim the shock waves on your gallstone. It will dissolve the gallstone or break it to let the bile pass through.
Your doctor may combine some treatments to get favorable results. Removal of the gallbladder is the most favorable option. It can cure the biliary colic without affecting the health. The gallbladder has no particular importance to the digestive health. So, removal is the most effective solution to eliminate the possibility of recurrence of the pain.
Preventing Biliary Colic
With some simple steps, you can prevent the pain. The easy to encompass methods can effectively avoid the pain. But, remember that even with the preventive measures, you can face the pain.
Having a healthy weight is the good preventive measure. So, try to maintain the BMI (Body Mass Index) can help you. So, include a nutritious diet, which is rich in fiber. The low-calorie diet can prevent several other issues like diabetes, obesity, etc. So, it can prevent gallstones and the subsequent pain.
Women prone to gallstones need to switch to another contraceptive with low estrogen levels. It can prevent the biliary colic and its recurrent attacks.
Several people opt for the preventive gallbladder surgery to prevent a biliary colic attack in the future.
Biliary Colic can cause problems in your daily life. It can hold you back from reaching your maximum potential. So, you need to take the right steps to overcome the issue. Do not let the pain ruin your life. Seek the medical assistance to alleviate the complication.View Article Sources
- Biliary System: Anatomy and Functions. Gallstones. (2013).
niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones. Gallstone pancreatitis. (n.d.).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Cholesystitis: Definition.
- Parente F, et al. (2007). Incidence and risk factors for gallstones in patients with inflammatory bowel disease: A large case-control study. DOI:
- Nervi F, et al. (2006). Gallbladder disease is associated with insulin resistance in a high risk hispanic population. DOI:
- Biliary System: Anatomy and Functions. Gallstones. (2013).