Cholecystitis - Symptoms and diagnosis

What are the symptoms of cholecystitis?

The symptoms of cholecystitis tend to be quite characteristic. They usually come on rather quickly and you can feel very unwell.

  • Pain in the upper tummy (abdomen) - the main symptom. It is usually worse on the right side, under the ribs. The pain may travel (radiate) to the back or to the right shoulder and tends to last several hours. The pain tends to be worse if you breathe in deeply.
  • You may also develop a feeling of sickness (nausea).
  • You may be sick (vomit).
  • You may have a high temperature (fever).

If you are examined by a healthcare professional, they may find you have a positive 'Murphy's sign', meaning that you notice an increase in pain when the doctor places their hand under your ribs on the right hand side, and then asks you to take a deep breath.

What does an ultrasound scan do?

An ultrasound scan is a generally painless test which uses sound waves to scan the tummy (abdomen). It takes around 30 minutes to complete the scan. An ultrasound scan can usually detect gallstones and also whether the wall of the gallbladder is thickened (as occurs with cholecystitis). If the diagnosis is in doubt then other more detailed scans may be done.

Are there any other tests I might need?

In hospital you may also have the following tests:

  • Monitoring of your temperature, pulse and blood pressure.
  • Assessment of your urine output.
  • Blood tests.
  • A computerised tomography (CT) scan of the tummy (abdomen).

What else could cause these symptoms?

The symptoms of cholecystitis are quite characteristic but other conditions can sometimes appear similar. These include appendicitis, a stomach ulcer, pancreatitis and pneumonia. All of these can make you seriously unwell so it's important to get the diagnosis right. The tests performed in hospital will help to check the diagnosis.

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Dr Nick Imm
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
4893 (v42)
Last Checked:
03 October 2016
Next Review:
03 October 2019

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.