Causes and Treatment for Gallbladder and Shoulder Pain

Cholelithiasis or the presence of gall stones in the gallbladder can cause it to inflame. This can lead to a referred shoulder pain often called as Gallbladder Shoulder Pain.

  • The bile is produced in the gallbladder and it aids in the digestion of fats

  • It is passed through the bile duct into the intestines

  • Bile passing through the gallbladder can harden and form into stones

  • The stones are usually made of salts and cholesterol

Symptoms of Gallstones

Gallstones are often asymptomatic.

Patients are only going to start symptoms once they grow larger than 8mm in diameter. Symptoms include:

  • Pain in upper right abdomen

  • Nausea and Vomiting

  • Referred pain between the shoulder blades

    • The pain usually goes away as soon as a gallstone attack is over

    • In some patients, however, the pain is present even without any of the other symptoms

Patients may also experience the following symptoms

  • Belching

  • Gas

  • Acid reflux

  • Feeling uncomfortably full

Most gallstone attacks occur after a patient has had a fatty meal.

Gallbladder and Shoulder Pain Causes

  • The main cause of the referred pain in between the shoulder blades is the inflammation of the gallbladder

  • When it is inflamed or distended from stones, it presses on the phrenic nerve found near the area of the right rib cage

  • This pressure causes a discomfort or a referred pain in between the patient’s shoulder blades


A variety of medical tests can be conducted to determine the presence of an inflamed or distended gallbladder.

These include:

  • Medical History

    • This checks for the patient’s diet and family history

    • When referred pain is the symptom reported in the absence of other symptoms, doctors will also look for indications of Cholelithiasis

  • Physical Examination

    • A positive Murphy’s Sign is going to indicate the presence of gallstones

    • Palpation of the abdominal area may also be performed

  • Imaging Studies

    • X-Ray

    • CT-Scan

    • Ultrasound

  • Complete Blood Count

  • Fecalysis

    • This checks for the condition of the stool and whether or not there is enough or too much bile

Treatment for Gallbladder and Shoulder Pain

Referred shoulder pain will go away when the gallbladder issues is addressed. Temporarily it can be addressed with positioning (lying on the left side) and compresses.

Treatment for patients who Cholelithiasis include:

  • Surgery

    • The gallbladder may have to be excised

    • This is a common procedure and is often the main treatment route for severely impacted gallbladders

    • The procedure can be done via laparoscopy

  • Medication

    • Certain drugs may be used to help prevent stones from forming in the gallbladder

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