How to Handle an Acute Gallbladder Attack or Flare Up

The gallbladder is a small-pear shaped organ that is in charge of collecting and storing your bile. Bile is the fluid that aids in the digestion of fats. You will never even think about this small-pear shaped organ unless you have a problem with it. Then believe me you will.

For the purpose of this article I am strictly focusing on how to deal with an acute gallbladder attack or flare up if one should occur to you, as I am going through right now. I feel there is not enough information out there on how to handle this sort of situation. So with that said, I hope this can help someone in the same predicament.

I am a big proponent of eating healthy wholesome nutrient dense foods. But there are exceptions to every rule, and this is one of them. When you are in a health crisis, you have to make certain accommodations; you will need to experiment on your own body, see how it reacts and then make the necessary adjustments.

Over the course of the years, the one important thing that I have learned to do is to listen to my own body, and you must do the same. When you go through a health crisis, not everything is always set in stone, and there tends to be a gray area. This is why what works for your friend may not necessarily work for you, when it comes to health or weight loss from a nutritional stand point, but I’ll save that topic for another time.

When you are having an acute gallbladder attack, your gallbladder squeezes and stays shut long after you eat. It can take from 4-6 hours before it becomes distended.

After some initial tests, I knew what I was dealing with; it was more than an acute flare up, it had become diseased and stopped working. Prior to this, it seemed like everything I was doing was making it worse. This got me thinking about all of my healthy foods and fats that I had been consuming.


Symptoms vary from patient to patient. And from what I have learned most people do not know that it is their gallbladder. Some patients go undiagnosed for quite some time. Some signs to look for include:

  • Burping after meals
  • Feeling full hours after you have eaten, to the point of nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation, chalky or white bowel movement
  • Upper chest pains
  • Stomach pain, belly button pain, lower back pain
  • Swelling in extremities arms, legs, face and stomach
  • Sweating
  • Trouble breathing

Again some of these symptoms can be related to so many other conditions. From what I learned, symptoms varied so much across the board. Some of my symptoms included:

  • Sweating after meals
  • Trouble breathing after meals, I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs
  • Pain under my ribs
  • No sense of hunger, constantly felt full. Literally, hours could go by and I would not feel the need to eat.
  • Constipation
  • Swelling in my abdomen, legs, and face
  • Urinating less by the end of the day due to swelling
  • Pain in the belly button, pulling sensation

I did some research and found that under the given circumstances, some of my healthy fats and foods weren’t so healthy. I started experimenting and eliminating both healthy fats and fiber from my diet. And almost instantly I was provided with some sense of relief.

Case in point, fats are the slowest digesting of the macronutrients and therefore should be avoided. Since fats take longer to digest, the body has a hard time processing and eliminating them. This puts an extra stress on the already stressed gallbladder.

The same can be said for fiber. Under normal circumstances, ‘fiber is your friend’ and your body needs fiber. Fiber helps with the elimination process of your body’s waste. In this case, fiber is your enemy. Again, fiber has a slow rate of digestion and this puts tremendous stress on the already overburdened gallbladder. Therefore both fats and fiber should be avoided if not completely eliminated.

For those of you who are already eating healthy wholesome nutrient dense foods like myself, this can be a hard concept to wrap our heads around. Remember what I said about that gray area? There it is, avoid and eliminate healthy fats and fiber. This is by no means a cure, but by eliminating these foods from my diet for the interim has provided me with a considerable amount of relief.

I also found that eating not only smaller meals, but spacing out the meals can be beneficial. When the gallbladder is under acute attack, it takes longer become distended and stays contracted for 4-6 hours. Normally, I eat every 3 hours, but waiting anywhere from 4-6 hours, in this case, places less strain on an already overworked gallbladder.

Things I have learned

I read people’s symptoms have been alleviated with drinking grape juice or apple juice. Beets and cucumber have a calming effect on the gallbladder as well. Organic food is important because it is free of herbicides and pesticides which causes an unneeded burden on the liver, and it, in turn, places extra stress on the gallbladder.

Eating lots of fresh green vegetables that are lightly cooked can be beneficial as well.

  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Parsley
  • Zucchini

I learned some people have difficulties getting enough protein in their diet because most proteins include fats which are not tolerated. Fortunately, I use a plant-based protein powder, so that did not come into play.

I did learn that others found success with pea and rice based protein shakes because they are easier on the gallbladder. These are beneficial proteins to the gallbladder and liver because they contain herbs that help promote bile flow.

Vitamins and Supplements

Again, under normal circumstances, you should stick with the supplementation and vitamin regimen that has been working for you. But these aren’t normal circumstances. You should limit if not eliminate the amount of vitamins and supplements you are taking. Your body not only has to digest them, but then break down. This in turn must be processed by the liver. Refer to my recent article on liver tips.

Beneficial supplements to consider taking
  • A good quality liver pill that includes milk thistle.
  • Taurine is an amino acid that helps to keep bile from the gallbladder, liver and kidneys. Take the Taurine in conjunction with the liver pills as this will prevent stones from forming.
  • Take Dandelion root in capsule form, open it up and sprinkle it on your food or put it in your water.
  • Take cranberry extract in capsule form, open it up and put it in your water.

Drink and Eat

  • Cranberry concentrate add it to your water.
  • Add lemons or limes to your water. I found fresh organic limes at the market and squeezed them into every glass of water with some cranberry extract.
  • Add garlic to foods.
  • Eat foods that are closest to their natural state and gently cooked.
  • Add parsley or cilantro to your food.

Beastly Update: Just posted, Foods To Eat and Avoid For a Gallbladder flare up.

Exercise and the Lymphatic System

I am also a big proponent of exercise, no matter how bad the situation is some form of exercise can be beneficial. Exercise helps keeps lymphatic system, moving and it can be beneficial if you are experiencing swelling.

Consider an acupuncture treatment or a massage. Again this helps take some of the stress off your lymphatic system. A good acupuncturist can hone in on the trigger points that are associated with gallbladder, kidneys and liver. It can provide some relief to your overburdened organs.

Prior to surgery and after surgery

If you are not eating healthy wholesome nutrient dense foods already, it would be in your best interest to start now. Gallbladder surgery is not a cure and once you have had gallbladder surgery your eating habits must change. Start now by avoiding margarine, fried foods, highly processed and fatty foods prior to surgery.

The take-home message of this article is that when you are battling a health condition with a little ingenuity you can minimize your discomfort until you can get the necessary help you need. I believe that the ability to manipulate nutrition can play a key role in turning a person’s health around.

Has this article been of help? Leave a comment in the section below.

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  1. I have systemic Lupus, ME/CFS and Fibrmyalgia and it is extremely difficult to tease out whether I am having problems 2° these other issues or if a new gremlin is causing me problems. I hv tried to eat a very bland diet (BRAT) but am experiencing pain in my lower abdomen and at times in my R upper abdomen right under my diaphram. I used to expel gas orally far more often then rectully but now tht is starting to change. I am flat exhausted and experience nausea and hunger pangs simultaneously which to me is a total oxymoron. I spent 15 years working in the medical field until having to retire on disability. I am an OT and am pretty knowledgeable having worked in many settings including the ICU. Plus whenever a new patient arrives thorough chart review is step 1 per the Dr order to eval and treat. So having reviewed literally hundreds of charts and tteating said pts one tends to pick up a thing or two.but when it comes to my own situation Idk what to do. I am pretty dependent at this point so I can’t just hop in the car and go to the Dr so any addl info other than what you alteady shared would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you for reading and being willing to share your own story.

    • Hi Jen,

      I am glad you found the information helpful. I can very much relate to your story. It sounds like you have multiple issues, but I do believe 1 issue at a time can be ironed out, and you should be able to get some more relief. I will contact you directly.

      Feel better!

  2. This article was very helpful! Last night, I had the worst attack I’ve ever had since first diagnosed with stones last August. I will use the tips and make sure I am aware of what aggravates the symptoms more. Thanks!

  3. thank you for this information, I found it very helpful, as I did not know how to deal with my flare ups. I am scheduled for surgery later this month. My question is this: After my gallbladder is removed would it still be beneficial to keep taking dandelion pills and cranberry extract pills to help my liver? or would you suggest something else, so that my liver will not have to work too hard.
    Thank You
    Jessie P

    • Hi Jessie,

      I’m glad you found the information helpful.

      I personally would continue to take a liver pill etc to optimize your function. Consider avoiding all processed food, and really make sure your eating clean and healthy to promote optimal function. Ask your doctor specifically what he or she recommends.

      Best of luck to you.


  4. Thank you for this article! I have been having episodes for about 3 years now. I have been to countless emergency rooms, blood work-ups, and diagnostics (ultrasound, ct scan, hida scan, egd scope) that all come back normal. Obviously I do not have stones so it’s harder to diagnose but all the classic gall-bladder disease symptoms are there! Over the last year I decided to just stop testing and let it go. I haven’t had an attack in about 9 months and the one I am currently having is the worst yet. It burns from under my rib cage to my back and in between shoulders all the way down to my pelvis. It feels like my entire intestinal track is on fire! I have gas, constipation and belching. I don’t eat anything deep fried and try to keep from eating overly processed food and take out. I am 34 years and otherwise healthy. This is just awful! Thank you for your post as I have tried to manage my symptoms with diet and am just needing some support, so again thank you from all of us suffering from this dreadful illness!

    • Hi Sara

      This sounds like what I am suffering at the moment. I have a Hiatus Hernia which was diagnosed many years ago. I have occasional episodes but this one is not settling properly even after 3 weeks. I always worry it is not my HH but something else horrid. Whole digestive system seems to be affected. On PPI,s but when I am having a flare up they don’t seem to work. Stress?

      Did you ever work out what it was?

  5. Very helpful thankyou but any one have this particular symptom of pain in left shoulder ?

    I am still waiting for surgery and having another flare up now

    I’m finding a pattern to my symptoms

    . Deffinate shortness of breath every time , not just when I’ve eaten but if I exert myself physically
    . Feeling full and can’t eat a normal amount
    . Nausea
    . Pain in back
    . Pain in left shoulder

    Has anyone else experienced pain in shoulder and shortness of breath when working physically as by the time I’ve finished my shift I’m breathing really heavily , and period pain type tummy ache

    • I get pain in my shoulder and shortness of breath too. I’ve had two hospitalizations, had to be induced with all my kids due to gall bladder issues and currently having an attack. The swelling drives me crazy. I opted to keep my gall bladder but am wondering if it’s really worth it as I am symptomatic almost daily with swelling and pain.

  6. I had a bad attack at the Monet I get pain in my chest before I eat end I feel nausea and feel like I got a temperature. Hot sweats going on all day.

  7. Pain in my right upper side that wraps around to my back and up my shoulder. I just ate a bowl of fruit salad and a quarter of a turkey sandwich and it feels like I had a steak dinner. Hurts when I breathe in or cough. Really annoying…I am too busy for this.


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