Biliary Colic: Definition, Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

It can be excruciating, and it is essential to keep in mind that diet plays a vital role in treating this condition.

Biliary colic is an intermittent pain in the upper abdomen, usually below the right side of the rib cage.

It is a condition that occurs when something blocks the normal flow of bile from the gallbladder. Bile is a liquid produced in the liver that helps the digestion of fats.

When food is consumed, bile passes from the gallbladder to the small intestine, which is where it is mixed with partially digested foods.

Bile is crucial for the digestion and absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine.

Causes of biliary colic

There are several different causes of biliary colic, but gallstones are the problem in the vast majority of cases.

The following list describes the various causes of biliary colic:



These are small stones composed of cholesterol and are formed in the gallbladder.

Sometimes they do not cause any symptoms; however, if they get trapped in the duct, which is the gallbladder’s opening, it can cause sudden and severe abdominal pain.

This pain may last a few minutes or several hours.

Obstruction of the bile duct

It occurs when there is a blockage of the bile ducts.

Bile helps eliminate waste products, but an obstruction can cause unpleasant symptoms, especially pain in the upper right part of the abdomen.

Dark urine and light-colored stools are also common.

If left untreated, the blockage can cause life-threatening liver disease.

Inflammation of the gallbladder

When the liver is blocked with a gallstone, and the bile recedes, it can cause inflammation of the gallbladder.

This inflammation causes an enlargement of the gallbladder, and this accumulation of bile can cause a secondary infection.

About 90 percent of cases of inflammation come from gallstones.

A risk factor for inflammation of the gallbladder is age.

After eating a high-fat meal, this condition appears suddenly, usually causing pain in the right upper quadrant.


This means that the inflammation is in the pancreas.

Biliary pancreatitis can occur suddenly and last a few days, or it can be chronic and occur over many years.

Mild cases go away without treatment, but severe cases can be life-threatening.

Upper abdominal pain is the main symptom. This pain tends to radiate towards the back.

Other causes

There are other causes of biliary colic that focus on bacteria and parasites.

Biliary cirrhosis, biliary fascioliasis, or sclerosing cholangitis, a disease that destroys the bile ducts, are considered causes of biliary colic.

Research suggests that half of the patients with biliary pancreatitis experience warning signs of biliary colic that are similar to other complications of gallstones.

Risk factor’s

Some people are more likely to develop gallstones and have a higher risk of biliary colic.

Women, people over 40, obese, indigenous people, Mexican Americans, people with gastrointestinal disorders, people who have lost weight quickly, and people with diabetes are at greater risk.

Also, the people who take certain medications. It is also important to note that it is not uncommon to see biliary colic in pregnant women.

Typical symptoms of biliary colic

People suffering from biliary colic complain of pain in the upper right part of the abdomen.

In some cases, this pressure may extend to the back of the right shoulder. Other symptoms include:

  • Sudden and intense stomach pain that lasts between one and five hours.
  • Pain in the middle of the abdomen.
  • Pain under the ribs on the right side.
  • Pain in the side of the body of the scapula.
  • Pain is triggered by eating a large meal or fatty foods.
  • Nausea and vomiting.


Blood tests and urine tests may explain why a person experiences uncomfortable pain in the abdomen.

However, in many cases, an x-ray of the abdomen may be required to make a definitive diagnosis.

Alternatively, an ultrasound may show blockages. CT scans can also detect blockages.

Sometimes, a special dye is used before taking the images to get a better view.

Magnetic resonance imaging is another tool used to detect blockages or inflammation of organs.

Naturally, the medical history, including details about the symptoms experienced, will help the diagnosis.


The treatment is aimed at relieving the pain of biliary colic, helping the patient to feel comfortable since he is likely to suffer from extreme pain, and the treatment is to eliminate the source of the problem.


For gallstones, the treatment may mean surgery to remove the gallbladder.

The procedure is known as a cholecystectomy. Thanks to modern medicine, laparoscopic surgery is commonly performed.

This procedure is less invasive than conventional open surgery.

There are cases in which the doctor will recommend techniques to dissolve or break the gallstones.

However, the gallstones come back in a few years in some situations.

Since the gallbladder is not crucial to digestive health, it can be eliminated.

When surgery is performed and the gallbladder is removed, the bile flows directly from the liver to the intestine and rarely causes health problems.

If treatment of biliary colic does not involve surgery, it is essential to follow the doctor’s instructions, including dietary guidelines.

It is equally important to check with your doctor from time to time to make sure the recovery is on the right track.

Changes in diet and lifestyle for biliary colic

The treatment of biliary colic includes lifestyle adjustments.

For example, a diet of biliary colic is vital and should be low in fiber since too much fiber can increase the risk of developing gallstones.

Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice, can also increase the risk of gallstones.

A healthy diet contains many fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole carbohydrates.

Following this diet contributes to eliminating symptoms and can also help reduce the risk of developing gallstones and, finally, biliary colic.

keep a healthy weight

Being overweight is a risk factor for developing gallstones, but losing weight too quickly can also lead to the formation of gallstones.

The weight loss should be a gradual maximum of one kilo per week.

It is best to consult with a nutritionist to establish a weight loss plan that is healthy and does not represent a health risk.

Avoid certain foods

The amount of fat in the diet should be limited. Fried foods and cookies are full of trans fats.

Foods high in salt and sugar should also be avoided. Pre-packaged foods tend to have a lot of salt and sugar, so they must be eliminated from the daily diet.

The consumption of salt and sugar in the diet should not be eliminated, as they are needed for metabolic functioning.

Do not eat oysters or raw fish.

These foods contain many bacteria that can cause problems, especially if the patient has already been diagnosed with biliary colic.

Increase the intake of healthy foods

This increase includes the consumption of fruits and vegetables and includes lean meat, fish, beans, and low-fat dairy products.

Certain seeds, including nuts and almonds, can help prevent gallstones because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

You can also take vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure you get all the body needs.

Avoid tobacco and alcohol.

Smoking and drinking can make biliary colic worse. It will help if you look for options and treatments for quitting smoking.

When it comes to alcohol, it is recommended to avoid its consumption or take only one or two drinks a week.