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Digestive Disorders

Phantom gallbladder pain?

02/12/2001

Question:

I have had gallbladder removal six months ago. The attacks are gone, but still sometimes feel the kind of pain similiar to gallbladder irritation. Has this been known to happen?

Answer:

Yes, as a matter of fact it is not that uncommon. Unless you had an attack of acute cholecystitis, in which the gallbladder was inflamed as a result of gallstones and needed to be removed urgently, it is sometimes difficult to determine that it is truly the gallbladder causing the pain episodes. Two potential causes of persistent pain after gallbladder removal include retained stones and spasm of the sphincter muscle that lies at the junction of the bile ducts and the intestine. The first condition, retained stones, means that stones have been left behind in the bile ducts (not in the gallbladder) causing blockage. The second condition, called Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction, also results in blockage but is due to an abnormally tight muscle. Both problems can be diagnosed and treated by a procedure called an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) which is performed in most instances by a gastroenterologist.

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Response by:

John D Long, MD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati