Home Digestive systemGallstones Causes, Symptoms and treatment of biliary colic

Causes, Symptoms and treatment of biliary colic

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Colic is episodes of very intense pain due to an obstruction in certain parts of the body. In the case of biliary colic, the pain is severe. It is centered in the upper right part of the abdomen, where the gallbladder is located, but, in addition, the discomfort usually radiates to the back, also affecting the shoulder blades and ribs.

The gallbladder is an organ located under the liver, and its primary function is to store the bile that the body will use to process fats in the small intestine. Biliary colic is an alarm that usually tells us that our gallbladder has a problem exercising its function. Many factors and diseases can trigger this situation; for this reason, in this FastlyHealarticle, we explain why biliary colic occurs.

Causes of biliary colic


Gallstones are hard deposits that form within this organ and are primarily of cholesterol and protein. These stones are formed progressively, and when they increase in size, they can obstruct some of the bile ducts through which the bile travels. This scenario represents one of the most common causes of biliary colic, as the interruption of the bile flow causes very severe pain.

Gallstones are more common in women than men, but they are also more common in people with diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, transplant recipients, and pregnant women. Taking birth control pills, eating a high-cholesterol diet, and losing weight quickly are also causes of gallbladder stone formation.

acute cholecystitis

The presence of a gallstone that obstructs the transit of bile within the gallbladder can lead to inflammation and infection of this organ, which is known as acute cholecystitis. One of the main symptoms of this pathology is biliary colic. However, some can live with an inflamed gallbladder for many years and not be aware of it. In general, this disease affects more women than men.

Narrowing of the bile duct

Just as excess cholesterol in the blood can narrow the arteries, an excessive concentration of this substance can also check the gallbladder’s ducts, interfering with the ideal transit of bile in and out of the organ. When the gallbladder ducts become narrower, biliary colic occurs.


The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach responsible for producing the hormones insulin and glucagon and some essential digestive enzymes for metabolizing food. When these digestive enzymes erroneously begin to digest the pancreas and wear down its tissue, pancreatitis occurs, a condition that is often accompanied by biliary colic.


This is the name given to the duodenum inflammation, which is the beginning of the small intestine. Usually, this condition occurs due to other diseases such as gastritis or the constant presence of gastric reflux that damages the duodenum and can also lead to biliary colic.

Certain factors can increase the risk of having biliary colic:

  • Family history of biliary colic.
  • Consumption of contraceptive drugs.
  • Advanced age.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Obesity.
  • High cholesterol diet.
  • Hemolytic disease.
  • Hepatic cirrhosis.

Gallstone symptoms

  • Very severe pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. The pain usually appears or worsens half an hour after eating a high-fat meal.
  • Severe pain under the ribs.
  • Pain in the back at the level of the right shoulder blade.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • The pain worsens with coughing and can be constant and indefinite.

How is biliary colic diagnosed?

People with biliary colic are often in such severe pain that they go to the emergency room. Once at the medical center, the specialist will perform a physical examination of the person, palpating the abdominal area with his hands. By touching the upper right region of the abdomen, the doctor will show a very acute pain in the person, which will guide him to prescribe a series of tests and examinations that will help him confirm the diagnosis. To verify that it is biliary colic, the medical specialist may request:

  • Blood tests: to know the cholesterol levels and the general state of health of the person.
  • Urine test: to examine the function of the gallbladder.
  • Abdominal x-ray or ultrasound – to look inside the abdomen and find out what is causing the pain.
  • Abdominal computed tomography: is the most effective test to diagnose obstructions in any organ; in this case, it would be helpful to discover the presence of gallstones.

Treatment of biliary colic

The first objective in the treatment of biliary colic is to calm the pain, so the doctor will prescribe a series of analgesic medications that will help reduce not only discomfort but also relieve muscle spasms, nausea, and vomiting.

However, treatment should focus on treating the cause of biliary colic. When the reason for the pain is the presence of stones in the gallbladder or cholecystitis, it may be necessary to drain the ducts of the organ to eliminate the obstruction or widen them. In the most severe cases, removing the gallbladder may be considered.

How to avoid biliary colic

Suppose you are aware of gallstones or any other pathology that can cause biliary colic. In that case, it is advisable to take into account the following tips to avoid the appearance of painful colic:

  • Avoid the consumption of alcoholic beverages, as these alter the gallbladder’s function.
  • If you are overweight, see a nutritionist to combat obesity and learn how to eat healthier.
  • Avoid eating foods rich in fat and oil.
  • Increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and vegetables.
  • I prefer lean meat proteins like chicken and turkey without skin.
  • Cook food on the grill, in the oven, or steamed.
  • Season foods naturally with paprika, onion, garlic, tomato, garlic porridge, and chives. Avoid processed and high-salt products.
  • Exercise to lower excess blood cholesterol, lose fat and lose weight.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Why biliary colic occurs , we recommend that you enter our Digestive System category .

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