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The Link Between Gallstones and Pain in Your Right Shoulder

Gallstones are a frequent medical complaint, affecting millions of Americans every year. While many people associate gallstones with belly pain, especially on the right side of the abdomen, shoulder pain is a surprisingly common symptom, too.

At Desert West Surgery, our team is skilled in diagnosing gallbladder problems and recommending treatments focused on helping you feel better while improving your overall wellness and quality of life. If you’ve been having shoulder pain, here’s how to tell if it might be related to your gallbladder.

Basic facts about your gallbladder

Located on the right side of your belly just below your liver, your gallbladder serves as a reservoir or “storage tank” for digestive juices (bile) produced by your liver. During digestion, your gallbladder releases bile as needed to break down foods.

Gallstones are small, hardened cholesterol or bile deposits inside your gallbladder. Stones come in many sizes; some can be as small as a grain of sand, while others can be as large as a grape — sometimes even larger.

Usually, gallstones don’t cause symptoms unless they become trapped or “stuck” in the duct that carries bile from the gallbladder to the liver. When that happens, you can have intense pain, typically on the right side of your belly or behind your belly button, along with nausea or pain in your back.

How gallbladder problems cause shoulder pain

Considering the location of the gallbladder and its role in digestion, symptoms in or around your abdominal cavity are no surprise. But what many people don’t know is that gallstones can also cause pain in the shoulder area.

When pain happens somewhere other than the actual source of symptoms, it’s called referred pain. Often, referred pain happens because the source of pain also causes nerve irritation. 

In the case of gallstones, inflammation in the area irritates the large phrenic nerve. This nerve is involved in respiration, but it also shares a connection with your shoulders. When the nerve is irritated by gallbladder swelling, it also triggers painful symptoms in your shoulder.

Treating gallstones

Gallstones won’t go away on their own. While changing your diet may provide limited, temporary relief, getting rid of gallbladder pain means removing your gallbladder through a surgical procedure called cholecystectomy. 

Our team is skilled in both minimally invasive gallbladder surgery and traditional “open” surgery that uses a larger incision. That means you can feel confident you’ll receive the optimal treatment for your unique needs to feel better and improve your overall wellness.

To find out if gallstones are causing your shoulder pain, call Desert West Surgery and schedule a visit at the Las Vegas location nearest you.

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