Surprising Signs That Indicate You Have Gallbladder Issues

Acid Reflux and Heartburn Some of the lesser-known signs of gallbladder disease are those that resemble indigestion and upset stomach. Heartburn and acid reflux are not… Aisha Abdullah - April 5, 2023
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Acid Reflux and Heartburn

Some of the lesser-known signs of gallbladder disease are those that resemble indigestion and upset stomach. Heartburn and acid reflux are not as common as abdominal pain and some other symptoms of gallbladder issues. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid rising into the esophagus, resulting in a burning sensation in your chest. Millions of people experience heartburn each day, and most of the time, it’s just a sign that they’ve eaten too much spicy or acidic food. Sometimes, though, heartburn can be an indication of a more serious issue, like gallbladder disease. If you are experiencing heartburn for the first time or have a sudden increase in heartburn symptoms, that could be related to gallbladder disease. This is especially true if you notice these symptoms alongside other potential gallbladder issues.


Loss of Appetite or Weight Loss

Gallbladder issues can result from significant weight loss. Ironically, gallbladder issues can also cause significant weight loss. Several symptoms of gallbladder disease, including chronic diarrhea and vomiting, can directly cause weight loss. Other symptoms, such as nausea, bloating, heartburn, and indigestion, make people more likely to avoid food altogether. And the fact that these symptoms are frequently triggered or worsened by eating makes matters worse. Many people with gallbladder disease report loss of appetite, especially as other symptoms worsen. The perpetual feeling of fullness makes people with gallbladder problems even less inclined to eat and more likely to lose weight. Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss combined with other gallbladder symptoms may be a sign that you need to talk to your doctor about potential gallbladder disease.

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Vitamin Deficiency

The primary role of bile is to break down fat. Without it, your body is unable to process the fat in food. Although people sometimes equate fat with bad, fat is absolutely necessary to keep us alive. And, in fact, many vital nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble. That means that they are absorbed along with the fat in food and are stored in fatty tissue in the body. Vitamin A is important for healthy bones and skin. Vitamin D is necessary to absorb calcium and is vital for bone health, while vitamins E and K promote healthy blood. Deficiencies of these fat-soluble vitamins aren’t just potential signs of gallbladder issues. They’re also serious health conditions in their own right. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness and makes you more vulnerable to infections. Lack of vitamin D causes muscle pain and bone loss. Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve damage, while too little vitamin K leads to increased bruising and bleeding. If you don’t have enough bile, you won’t be able to absorb these nutrients properly.


Pain Under the Right Shoulder Blade

Most people associate gallbladder problems with abdominal pain. But it turns out that back or shoulder pain can be a hidden sign that you need to get your gallbladder checked. That’s because the swollen, inflamed gallbladder can press against the phrenic nerve, which extends from your abdomen to the neck. This nerve is important for controlling the movements of your chest muscles to allow you to breathe. So what does that have to do with back pain? Sometimes, when nerves are irritated, they can cause what’s called “referred pain.” Basically, you experience pain in one place on your body but feel it somewhere else. A classic example of this is that during a heart attack, people often feel pain in their left shoulder or arm. In the case of gallbladder issues, the pressure on the phrenic nerve is felt in the right shoulder blade or the right side of your back. As with abdominal pain, gallbladder-related back or shoulder pain usually worsens after eating.

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Bad Breath

Many things can cause bad breath: a garlic-heavy meal, smoking, or slacking on your dental health routine. But if you have persistent bad breath with no obvious cause, it could be a sign of something more serious. When your gallbladder isn’t functioning normally or if gallstones are causing bile duct blockage, you may experience extremely foul-smelling that doesn’t improve with time or changing habits. Bad breath related to gallbladder issues is usually described as smelling like sulfur or rotten eggs. In addition to the odor, you may also have a sour taste in your mouth that you can’t get rid of. The bad breath may be accompanied by a yellow-colored tongue. Generally, tongues covered in a light yellow film are harmless, but they can be indicative of gallbladder or liver issues caused by an accumulation of bile.

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Extremely Itchy Skin

Your skin is probably not the first play you’d look for signs of gallbladder issues. But a surprisingly common symptom of gallbladder issues is intense, uncontrollable itching. Although the exact cause of gallbladder-related itching is unknown, it’s likely to be at least partially due to a buildup of bile salts in the body. The itching associated with gallbladder disease is much more severe than what you experience with a bug bite. In many cases, the itching is so debilitating that it may require medication to get through the day. A majority of patients with gallstone-related jaundice reported severe, persistent itching. Gallstone blockage of the bile ducts has been associated with itchiness in the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet. Heat may make the itching worse, and some people report that the symptom is worse at night.


Dizziness and Lightheadedness

Feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness are less common but real symptoms of serious gallbladder problems. People with severe gallbladder infections are most at risk for these symptoms. If the infection spreads from the gallbladder into the bloodstream, it can cause you to go into shock and become dizzy and disoriented. This is a serious, life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical attention. Although dizziness and lightheadedness aren’t common symptoms, they can also occur in people with other gallbladder diseases. For example, severe abdominal pain and nausea related to gallstones may cause temporary dizziness and fatigue. Nutritional deficiencies caused by a lack of bile and an inability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins can also cause these symptoms.

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Gallbladder Attacks Can Mimic Heart Attacks

A sudden gallbladder attack that causes severe upper abdominal pain may convince you that you have a heart attack. Both conditions cause sudden intense pain in the lower chest that may extend to the shoulder. Gallbladder attacks can also cause pressure in the center of the chest. Other symptoms that may occur during a heart or gallbladder attack are nausea, vomiting, severe heartburn, and dizziness. Although the symptoms are similar, gallbladder attacks are felt on the right side of the body, while heart attacks are felt on the left. Serious gallbladder issues can also cause a drop in blood pressure and elevated heartbeat. In addition to causing dizziness, gallbladder infections that spread into the blood can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, which leads to heart palpitations and rapid breathing.

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When To See a Doctor

Many signs of gallbladder disease can mimic other health conditions. Individually, symptoms like abdominal pain, a low-grade fever, occasional lightheadedness, or changes in bowel movements aren’t a cause for concern. But if you’re experiencing combinations of more than one of these and other symptoms listed above, it might be a good idea to see a doctor to determine if you have gallbladder disease. For example, if you experience the following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Abdominal pain that lasts longer than a few hours, especially if the pain is severe or radiates from the upper right side of the abdomen.
  • Yellow skin or whites of the eyes
  • Pale, chalky poop or dark-colored urine
  • Nausea, vomiting, or an inability to keep food down, if accompanied by the symptoms above
  • Fever, chills, or sudden dizziness, if accompanied by the symptoms above

Diet Can Help Prevent Gallbladder Problems

Your diet can help you reduce your risk of developing gallbladder issues. A gallbladder-healthy diet is low in saturated fats that may trigger gallbladder attacks but includes healthy unsaturated fats. The diet is high in fiber, vitamin C, and calcium and low in sugar. Some specific elements of the gallbladder diet are:

  • Avoiding saturated fats, including those found in meat, cheese, and other animal products
  • Including monounsaturated fats found in most nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, and some plant oils
  • Incorporating polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fats, found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseed
  • Eating fiber-rich foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, may help promote gallbladder health.
  • Reducing added sugar and processed foods, which are associated with a higher risk of developing gallstones.
  • Drinking coffee every day has been linked to a decreased risk of gallstones.


Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Gallbladder Disease: Signs, Symptoms, and Complications

14 Gallbladder Attack Symptoms to Look Out For

Symptoms of a Gallbladder Problem

Gallbladder: Pain, Symptoms, Problems, and More

Gallstones and gallbladder disease Information

14 Signs and Symptoms You May Have a Gallbladder Problem

7 Gallstone Symptoms You Need to Know About

Symptoms You May Not Realize Are Being Caused by Gallbladder Disease

What Are the Symptoms of a Gallbladder Attack