Is Your Upper Abdominal Pain Acid Reflux or a Gallbladder Attack?
Have you ever noticed a pain at the top of your stomach, either after eating or when lying down? Two common conditions that cause upper abdominal pain are acid reflux and gallbladder disease. They can have some of the same symptoms. But understanding the differences will make it easier to start a conversation with your doctor so they can help you find the pain relief you need.
A Look at Your Gallbladder
Your gallbladder is located at the top of your upper right abdomen. The small sac is responsible for storing bile produced by your liver. The gallbladder typically functions the way that it is supposed to. However, if it becomes infected or blocked, it can lead to pain and a serious medical condition.
Gallstones are the most common cause of a gallbladder attack. They can block the bile ducts which puts pressure on the gallbladder, causing pain. If you frequently have attacks, there is a chance you’ll need to have your gallbladder removed.
Some of the risk factors for developing gallbladder attacks include:
- Heredity - have others in your family had gallbladder attacks?
- Being overweight
- Hormone imbalances
- Pregnancy or recently being pregnant as your hormones return to normal.
Whether you have risk factors or not, you can have a gallbladder attack. If there is too much cholesterol in the bile that is stored in your gallbladder, it can form into small stones that have to pass through the tiny ducts, causing a lot of pain.
If you eat a heavy or greasy meal, it can trigger a gallbladder attack.
The pain is typically intense and located in the upper right part of your abdomen but sometimes may be in the upper center part of your abdomen or even in your chest. It may even spread to the right shoulder or to the right side of your back. Beyond the pain, symptoms can include fever, chills, and diarrhea. Symptoms can last up to a few hours and usually go away on their own.
A Look at Acid Reflux
Acid reflux’s primary symptom is heartburn. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) occurs when acid reflux becomes chronic. Approximately two out of every five adults are affected by acid reflux. Diet and genetics are a big part of the equation, and age and obesity lead to a higher frequency of acid reflux.
Some of the symptoms you may encounter include not only heartburn but also sleep disruption, chest pain, voice changes, intolerance of certain foods, bloating, coughing and even asthma. The reason for this is because of a weak muscle valve that's located between the esophagus and stomach. It causes some of the stomach acid to make its way back up your esophagus. Basically, you feel a strong burning sensation at the back of your throat, and sometimes at the base of your esophagus. This is because your esophagus isn’t lined like your stomach which can handle the acids. Acid in the esophagus leads to heartburn.
For those with mild acid reflux, which happens only now and then, treatment can be as simple as managing your diet and elevating your torso when you encounter problems. You can use some over the counter heartburn medications to ease the symptoms.
If you are experiencing acid reflux more than once a week or so, you might try an acid reflux over the counter medication. If you’ve tried various over-the-counter medications and lifestyle modifications but still have the symptoms, it’s best to talk to your doctor. There are some common surgeries available today that can relieve chronic heartburn (GERD) symptoms.
Take a Close Look at Your Abdominal Pain
It's important to keep track of where your pain is so that your doctor will have more information for a proper diagnosis. Take notes about the following:
- Is your abdominal pain every day when you eat, after you eat? At night?
- What foods were you recently eating before the pain started?
- Where is the pain located?
- How long after you're eating do you start to feel the pain?
- Does the pain go away on its own? If so, how long does that typically take?
- What did you eat over the past hour or two before you started having pain?
Acid reflux, for most people, will cause pain almost immediately after you eat a meal, or after eating specific foods. If you go to bed soon after eating, it can be aggravated by lying down. It may wake you up at night.
If gallbladder disease is responsible for your pain, it will often occur immediately or few hours after eating. It may also wake you up at night. Greasy and fatty foods can make it worse, but not always.
A change in diet and lifestyle can reduce upper abdominal pain for many people. But GERD and gallbladder disease may require surgery to help relieve the regular pain.
With the symptoms being in a similar area of the body for both acid reflux and gallbladder attacks, you can identify between the two if you know what to look for. However, you may also encounter nonspecific symptoms, such as a dull pain at the base of your stomach. Take note of that as well.
To figure out what you have and how severe it is your doctor may order a number of tests. An ultrasound, an endoscopy, a gallbladder HIDA scan, a ph probe, a manometry and other tests may be run to find the cause of your abdominal pain.
How Treatments for Abdominal Pain Vary
Ultimately, your goal is to be symptom-free by solving the cause of the pain. If you're experiencing upper abdominal pain more than once a week, or taking acid reflux medications regularly for more than a few weeks at a time, you should consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor. Otherwise, you could end up dealing with the symptoms for months or even years. If you don’t schedule a special appointment, then be sure to mention it during your next regular checkup. If you don’t address the cause, you risk developing additional health conditions or damage to your esophagus and other organs. Generally speaking, the sooner you have a condition treated, the easier it is to solve.
Is Surgery Right for You?
Surgery isn't the solution for everyone, but for some it can provide life-changing relief. If your doctor thinks it’s the best option, he or she will refer you to a surgeon like Dr. Howard who specializes in reflux and gallbladder surgery.
Acid Reflux Surgeries in The Woodlands
Dr. Howard performs a number of different surgeries, most of them with a short recovery period, depending on the diagnosis. These include:
- Laparoscopic acid reflux surgery (Nissen)
- TIF (Transoral Nissen fundoplication)
- Hiatal hernia
- Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal)
Gallbladder Removal Surgery in The Woodlands
You can live a normal life with some diet adjustments without a gallbladder. Living without pain is often a better option than repeated attacks. Such a surgery is known as a cholecystectomy. This gallbladder surgery is done laparoscopically with three to four small incisions to remove the gallbladder. The gallbladder is removed so that it's no longer causing you pain. Additionally, you wouldn't have to worry about an infection or gallstones in the future. The surgery is done as an outpatient surgery and you will return home the same day.
Is Surgery Right for You?
It’s important that you don’t automatically assume you need surgery. It’s an option for those who it can really help. Dr. Howard will always spend time explaining your options and making a recommendation he feels will help you the most. If you’re feeling upper abdominal pain regularly, be sure you’re tracking your symptoms to make it easier to diagnose and focus on a treatment that can give you relief once and for all.
If your doctor has recommended that you see a surgeon or you feel that you need a proper work up to find the right solution to your problem, schedule an appointment with Dr. Howard at our office in The Woodlands for a surgical consultation to find out what is best for you.
Categories: Acid Reflux & GERD