The gallbladder is an important part of digestion. If you’re experiencing issues, they may affect your bowel movements and cause symptoms like constipation.

Your gallbladder is an important organ that doesn’t usually get a lot of attention until it starts to cause a problem.

The main function of the gallbladder is to produce bile, a thick liquid that helps you digest fats and other foods. The gallbladder works with the other parts of your biliary system — including the liver and various ducts — to keep your bowels moving.

Disruptions in the flow or production of bile fluid can cause pain, digestive problems, and even changes in your bowel habits.

This article will review how gallbladder problems can affect your bowel movements and how gallbladder dysfunction is related to constipation.

Without the gallbladder making bile or enough of it, you may experience malabsorption.

This problem develops when the nutrients from the foods you eat aren’t absorbed and used effectively by your body. It can also impact the texture, frequency, and timing of your bowel movements.

As a result, those bowel movement changes may cause constipation.

People with gallbladder problems often experience symptoms that include:

  • abdominal pain in the upper part of the stomach
  • nausea
  • gas
  • indigestion
  • a feeling of fullness or discomfort after eating
  • cramping

Gallbladder attacks can come and go suddenly, often after meals.

If you experience frequent gallbladder pain or develop obstructions from gallstones, you may end up needing your gallbladder removed. Cholecystectomy is the surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Both gallbladder dysfunction and removal can cause changes in your bowel habits. Most often, it’s a color change, and your stool will take on a greyish or clay-colored appearance. You may also experience constipation, but loose stools (diarrhea) is more common.

You’ll still produce bile through the liver after gallbladder removal, so diarrhea or loose stool can be the result of an excess of fats in your stool, or changes in how bile is made and secreted.

In some cases, gallbladder dysfunction leads to the formation of gallstones, which can block or obstruct different areas of your digestive system. If this happens, a gallbladder attack or even a dangerous halt in digestion called an ileus can develop.

Gallbladder pain and constipation can be associated, but it might be difficult to tell exactly which caused the other.

Changes in the fat content of your stools from changes in your bile flow could cause constipation, and gallbladder attacks from gallbladder dysfunction or gallstones can also cause pain.

If you’re experiencing bowel changes that coincide with other symptoms of gallbladder problems, talk with your healthcare team about checking the function of your gallbladder to see if it’s related to your digestive issues.

Symptoms that your gallbladder isn’t working correctly might include:

  • sharp, cramping, or dull pain in the upper right or upper middle portion of your abdomen
  • steady pain in the upper right or middle part of your abdomen
  • abdominal pain that spreads to your back or below your right shoulder blade
  • clay-colored stools
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • bloating or gas pain, especially after eating
  • a feeling of discomfort or abdominal fullness after a meal
  • yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

Symptoms of gallbladder problems aren’t different among men and women, but women are more likely to develop gallbladder dysfunction and gallstones.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, up to 20% of American women develop gallstones by age 60. In fact, women between the ages of 20 and 60 are about three times more likely than men to develop gallstones.

Some risk factors for gallstones in women include:

  • multiple pregnancies
  • a family history of gallbladder problems
  • obesity
  • rapid weight loss

Women of Hispanic or American Indian heritage also experience higher rates of gallstones.

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this condition. Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment. Learn more.

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Diet changes that reduce your fat intake are usually the first step in treating gallbladder problems.

Severe infection or inflammation that produces gallstones or obstructions can require additional pain medications, antibiotics, or even surgical drainage and/or removal of the gallstones or your gallbladder.

Your gallbladder plays an important role in your digestion. If your gallbladder isn’t making enough bile, or there’s a blockage in the flow of bile, you may notice some changes in your bowel habits. But abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating are more common symptoms of gallbladder problems.

If you have bowel changes like diarrhea or constipation alongside these symptoms — especially if you develop a fever — talk with a healthcare professional.