The liver makes the body’s supply of bile. Bile is a dark green, yellow, or brown fluid that breaks down fat and helps your body digest food. Sometimes, the liver produces too much bile. Excess bile is stored in the gallbladder.
A gallbladder rupture is a medical condition where the gallbladder leaks or bursts. Ruptures are commonly caused by inflammation of the gallbladder. This inflammation can be caused by gallstones, which can get stuck inside the gallbladder. In rare cases, an injury can cause a rupture.
If your gallbladder ruptures, you may have sudden, sharp severe pain. The pain might be short-lived following the rupture. But the pain often returns when the rupture site grows or becomes inflamed or infected. An untreated ruptured gallbladder can cause an infection in the bloodstream (septicemia). This type of infection can be life-threatening.
Ruptures are generally caused by inflammation of the gallbladder or a blunt injury.
Causes of gallbladder inflammation leading to rupture include:
- gallstones, which are the most common cause of inflammation
- ascariasis, which is caused by parasitic worms and can lead to biliary disease
- bacterial infections, such as those caused by Escherichia coli, Klebsiella, or Streptococcus faecalis
- biliary sludge, which is a mixture of bile and particle matter that can clog the gallbladder
Causes of blunt-injury that can rupture of the gallbladder include:
- motor vehicle accidents
- falls with impact to the abdomen
- direct blows from contact sports, such as soccer, wrestling, or rugby
Symptoms of a ruptured gallbladder shouldn’t be ignored. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any gallbladder rupture symptoms. These symptoms may include:
- nausea and vomiting
- sharp pain in right upper quadrant of your abdomen
- jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by bile being forced into the bloodstream
It might be difficult for your doctor to diagnose a ruptured gallbladder because your symptoms may resemble symptoms of gallbladder inflammation. If your doctor diagnoses you with gallbladder inflammation when it’s really a gallbladder rupture, they may give you the wrong treatment.
Your doctor may use a variety of diagnostic tests to check for a gallbladder rupture, such as:
- ultrasound of the abdomen
- color flow Doppler ultrasound
- CT scan
- biliary scintigraphy, which uses radioactive materials injected into the body that are tracked with a specialized camera
Additionally, your doctor may order a series of blood tests to check for signs of infection and inflammation:
- A high white blood cell count indicates an infection.
- A high c-reactive protein level indicates inflammation.
- A high erythrocyte sedimentation rate also indicates inflammation.
Your doctor will recommend the best course of treatment after diagnosing your condition. Typically, a diagnosis is followed with quick treatment. Ideally, your doctor will want to remove the gallbladder before it ruptures. There’s a higher chance of complications if your gallbladder is removed after it ruptures.
The gallbladder can be removed laparoscopically by making an incision in your stomach. This technique has a lower risk of complications and usually requires a shorter hospital stay. Partial cholecystectomy is an option if you have inflammation or if the position of your gallbladder makes complete removal difficult.
It’s likely that you’ll require treatment after surgery. This may include antibiotics to clear infection and a hospital stay to monitor your condition. A temporary low-fat diet might be necessary. Bile breaks down fats in the intestines and you may experience short-term difficulties with digestion after your gallbladder is removed.
You may also receive instructions for caring for your surgical incision at home, and your doctor may prescribe or recommend pain medication. Your doctor may prescribe another course of antibiotics as a precaution against infection. You may also be instructed to avoid certain activities for a while.
Gallbladder ruptures should be taken very seriously. Bile is not supposed to be released into other areas of the body. The most deadly complication is septicemia, which is an infection that spreads to the bloodstream. In this case, your body may go into shock or your organs may shut down if you don’t get treatment quickly. Your risk for this type of complication is higher if you have a history of septicemia.
The outlook is promising when the gallbladder is removed before it can rupture. Not all ruptures occur in the same part of the gallbladder. Certain rupture locations make removal more difficult, which increases the risk of developing an infection. Serious complications of a rupture can be fatal.
Those who receive a correct diagnosis and fast treatment can make a full recovery.