By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Pain on right side abdomen? Sudden, sharp right abdomen pain? This could be a sign of a gallstone or gallbladder issue. Gallbladder attacks can cause severe gallbladder pain. Acupuncture and TCM can provide an alternative or adjunct treatment for gallstones symptoms.
The gallbladder is a small organ located on the right side of your abdomen, under the liver. The liver produces bile, a liquid that helps break down fats into fatty acids. The gallbladder stores bile and releases it into the small intestine as needed, to help with digestion.
When the bile that your body produces has too much cholesterol or bilirubin in it, or when bile is not draining out of the gallbladder properly, it can become too concentrated and begin to harden into a solid.
Gallbladder pain usually occurs because a person has gallstones, which are just what they sound like: little stones that develop inside the gallbladder and are made up mostly of cholesterol. The medical term for gallstones is “cholilithiasis.”
Many people have gallstones and are not aware of it. It is possible to have gallstones with no symptoms at all.
Top 5 Gallstone Symptoms
People who have gallbladder disease or gallstones are likely to experience a condition known as “biliary colic.” This means that they have an intolerance for fatty foods and may experience dyspepsia, nausea, and/or bloating when they eat something that disagrees with them.
Severe, sharp right side stomach pain is the most common sign of a gallbladder attack, which is when a gallstone becomes lodged in one of the small tubes or ducts that lead to and from the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
Gallbladder symptoms may include:
- Pain in lower right abdomen
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Yellow skin and/or yellow eyes, jaundice
- Fever and/or chills
- Brown pee, brown urine, light-colored poop
Sometimes gallbladder pain can refer to the right shoulder, or between the shoulderblades.
Gallbladder pain can also happen due to inflammation of the gallbladder. This condition is known as cholecystitis and occurs when a gallstone blocks the duct that leads out of the bladder, causing bile and bacteria to build up and become infected.
Stones can sometimes become lodged in the common bile duct, which not only causes pain, but can lead to pancreatitis. Gallstones are the primary cause of acute pancreatitis, in which the pancreas becomes irritated and inflamed due to a backup of bile and/or digestive enzymes.
The pain of a gallbladder attack is unignorable. If it doesn’t go away within a few hours, most people choose to go to the emergency room for urgent care.
Gallstones may pass on their own, or drugs are sometimes used to help dissolve the gallstones. These drugs can be expensive, and sometimes cause problems like atherosclerosis, or fatty buildup in the arteries.
When gallstone pain comes and goes, and the gallstones are present but not causing the blockage of a duct, usually pain management and patience are the only treatment.
If gallbladder issues keep coming up, the typical medical treatment is gallbladder surgery.
Acupuncture can offer an alternative treatment to help relieve gallbladder pain. TCM is considered an effective treatment for biliary colic due to gallbladder disease.
It is very common for people presenting with acute pancreatitis or a gallbladder attack to have a cholecystectomy, or gallbladder removal. Over 300,000 cholecystectomies are performed in the U.S. each year.
While this gallbladder surgery is usually done laparoscopically and is minimally invasive, there are disadvantages to living without a gallbladder.
Some people have what is known as postcholecystectomy syndrome, in which they continue to experience pain on right side abdomen, heartburn, nausea, indigestion, and vomiting, even though their gallbladder is gone.
Some research studies have suggested that gallbladder removal may not be necessary or desirable for everyone. It may be worth considering alternative or adjunct gallbladder pain treatment with TCM and acupuncture.
Can Acupuncture Help Gallbladder Symptoms?
Chinese medicine has been used to treat gallstones for thousands of years, without surgery.
According to TCM theory, the gallbladder is the Yang organ that ideally works cooperatively and in harmony with the Yin liver. The gallbladder is an extraordinary organ in that it is part of the digestive system, but it never comes in direct contact with the food you eat. It stores and secretes bile to help break down fats.
In TCM, we consider the gallbladder to represent the part of our nature that makes decisions, takes action, and feels inspired. When the liver and the gallbladder are not functioning smoothly, we may feel frustrated, angry, and depressed. Repressing anger can exacerbate gallbladder problems, as can eating the wrong foods.
In TCM, the gallbladder is associated with spring, and the wood element. It is best nourished with lots of dark, leafy greens, herbs, roots, and green tea. Eating too many fatty, fried foods, and drinking too much alcohol can have a very negative effect on both the liver and gallbladder.
The stimulation of acupoints along the gallbladder meridian can help to regulate the sphincters of the gallbladder and its action, and help to promote the secretion of bile so that it does not remain stagnant inside the gallbladder.
Acupuncture can also have an analgesic effect that may even be superior to that of NSAIDs pain relief medications, without any of the side effects that may occur with regular use of these drugs.
Acupuncture can also be used to treat chronic cholecystitis, the chronic inflammation of the gallbladder due to infection. TCM treatment can help reduce inflammation and improve immune function so that infections can be more easily fought off.
Acupuncture and TCM can also be used as an adjunct treatment to help boost the efficacy of conventional medications. One study showed that patients who were given cefodizime for chronic cholecystitis and also received acupuncture had a 98% effective rate, as opposed to patients who received the medication only, who had only a 50% effective rate.
There are many Chinese herb preparations designed to help with gallstones. These formulas are based on TCM theories related to clearing the stagnation of Qi and blood in the liver and gallbladder, removing dampness and heat and treating yin deficiency.
These herbs have been shown to help discharge gallstones, control the metabolism of bilirubin, and help to prevent the formation of new stones in the future.
Acupuncture Near Me for Gallbladder Pain in West Los Angeles
Acupuncture and TCM can provide natural treatments for gallstones and many other problems related to the digestive system, such as diarrhea, constipation, Crohn’s disease, colitis, IBS, diverticulitis, and celiac disease. If you are experiencing abdominal pain and other digestive symptoms, consider consulting with a TCM practitioner. Acupuncture can help prevent conditions like gallstones from getting worse.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.