You feel a sharp, intense pain just below your ribs, and you begin to feel nauseous. You're not sure what caused these symptoms, but they seemed to start shortly after dinner. Although you should see a doctor to rule out anything more serious, it's possible that you're experiencing a gallbladder attack. If these symptoms happen on a regular basis after you eat dinner, chances are that your gallbladder is having problems. This pain may occur for several reasons, but you can often relieve and prevent symptoms at home. Here's how to find out if you can treat it at home, and when you need to involve a doctor, instead.
Keep a Food and Symptom Diary
Keep a food diary of everything you eat and track when you experience symptoms. Most people who suffer from gallbladder problems have them on a recurrent basis and can link them to certain foods. The foods most likely to trigger a gallbladder attack include spicy and high-fat foods such as dairy products, red meat, and sugar and alcohol. Try different combinations of foods that cause symptoms, as well. For example, a regular hamburger might not cause symptoms, but a cheeseburger with fries might.
Once you've kept a diary of symptoms and food triggers, you know which foods are most likely to cause symptoms. Unfortunately, many of the worst offenders may also be some of your favorites. At first, eliminate the foods entirely. You may discover that you can minimize symptoms by reintroducing these foods in smaller quantities or in different combinations. Avoid skipping meals, which can increase the likelihood of experiencing an attack. If you are female and are taking oral contraceptives, ask your doctor whether a low-estrogen pill would be a good option for you; high estrogen levels are linked to gallbladder problems.
Choose Drinks Carefully
Drink a full glass of water at the onset of a gallbladder attack. Water may break up some of the bile that leads to gallbladder symptoms. Drinking bitter beverages such as coffee or green tea also seems to help. Drinking pear juice has also been associated with relief from gallbladder attacks.
Use Pain Relievers
The pain from a gallbladder attack can be intense, and there is little you can do to stop it once it has started. Over-the-counter pain relievers, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, can help relieve the discomfort. In addition, consider using a hot castor oil pack topically on the skin over the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, where gallbladder discomfort is concentrated.
When to See a Doctor
Self-care at home is the easiest first option, but sometimes you need medical attention. Signs that you need to see a doctor include pain that cannot be relieved with any of the above solutions, or pain that is much more intense than previous gallbladder attacks. If you have a fever, it might be a sign that you need to have your gallbladder removed. You may want to see a doctor if you're experiencing gallbladder attacks so frequently that it interferes with your life; surgery to remove your gallbladder can provide relief to your symptoms. Your symptoms may also be a sign of an unrelated health problem, which only a doctor can detect.
Holly Case has written professionally since 2000. She is a former contributing editor for "ePregnancy" magazine and a current editor for a natural food magazine. She has extensive experience writing about nutrition, pregnancy, infertility, alternative medicine, children's health and women's health issues. Case holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and professional writing from Saginaw Valley State University.