Gallbladder Physical Exam

Learn about the physical exam for the gallbladder, including techniques and examples. Download Carepatron's free gallbladder physical exam PDF guide for reference.

By Karina Jimenea on Apr 08, 2024.

Fact Checked by RJ Gumban.

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What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ beneath the liver, tucked away in the upper right abdomen. While it might be relatively diminutive, its role in the digestive system is significant. Primarily, the gallbladder acts as a storage reservoir for bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver. This bile, rich in essential substances like bile salts, cholesterol, and bilirubin, aids in the digestion and absorption of fats from our food.

When food, particularly fatty foods, enters the small intestine, a signal is sent to the gallbladder, prompting it to release bile into the digestive tract. This bile emulsifies fats, breaking them into smaller particles that enzymes can digest more effectively. Through this process, the gallbladder plays a crucial role in promoting efficient digestion and nutrient absorption within the body.

It's worth noting that while the gallbladder plays a supportive role in digestion, it is not indispensable. Individuals can live a healthy life without a gallbladder, as the liver can still produce bile. However, gallbladder removal may alter the digestion of fats to some extent.

Printable Gallbladder Physical Exam

Download this Gallbladder Physical Exam to guide healthcare professionals through the process with clarity and efficiency.

Types of gallbladder disease

Gallbladder disease encompasses a range of conditions that affect the proper functioning of this vital organ. Understanding these different types is crucial for identifying symptoms and seeking appropriate medical attention.

Let's explore the primary types of gallbladder diseases:

Biliary colic

Biliary colic is characterized by intense pain in the upper abdomen, typically caused by the temporary obstruction of the bile ducts. This occurs when gallstones, small solid particles that can form in the gallbladder, obstruct the normal flow of bile. The resulting pain can be sharp and cramp-like, often triggered by the consumption of fatty foods.

It's essential to recognize the distinct nature of biliary colic pain, as it tends to occur intermittently and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Acute cholecystitis

Acute cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder, often stemming from gallstones' blockage of the cystic duct. The condition can cause persistent upper abdominal pain, tenderness, and swelling. Physical findings associated with acute cholecystitis may include a positive Murphy's sign—a sharp increase in pain upon deep palpation of the gallbladder area.

Prompt medical attention is crucial to alleviate symptoms and prevent potential complications.


While not a disease per se, the formation of gallstones can lead to various gallbladder-related complications. These solid particles, primarily composed of cholesterol or bilirubin, can range in size and obstruct the normal flow of bile. Abdominal pain in the upper part is a common symptom, often radiating to the back or right shoulder.

Findings may include jaundice if a gallstone obstructs the bile ducts, leading to an accumulation of bilirubin in the bloodstream.

Gallstone Disease Symptoms

Gallstone disease often presents with a spectrum of symptoms, and understanding these signs is vital for early detection and intervention. A comprehensive gallbladder physical examination involves assessing these symptoms to provide a clearer picture of the individual's health.

Let's delve into the critical symptoms associated with gallstone disease:

Upper abdominal pain

Abdominal pain in the upper area is a hallmark symptom of gallstone disease. Patients frequently describe a persistent, gnawing discomfort in the upper right quadrant, often radiating toward the back or right shoulder. During a physical examination, healthcare professionals may inquire about the nature, intensity, and duration of this pain to aid in diagnosis.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common accompanying symptoms, particularly during episodes of biliary colic. These symptoms may arise due to the disruption of normal bile flow caused by gallstones. A thorough physical examination includes assessing the patient's history of nausea and vomiting with pain in the upper abdominal episodes.


Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes resulting from the accumulation of bilirubin. While gallstones primarily impact the gallbladder, common bile duct stones can obstruct bile flow and lead to jaundice. A careful examination may involve inspecting the skin and sclera for signs of yellow discoloration.

Murphy's sign

As mentioned earlier, an optimistic Murphy's sign often indicates gallbladder inflammation, such as acute cholecystitis. This physical finding involves a sharp increase in pain when the gallbladder area is palpated during a deep breath while the patient is lying supine. This maneuver aids in detecting tenderness and inflammation.

Assessment of common bile duct

In cases where common bile duct stones are suspected, a thorough physical examination includes assessing the presence of tenderness or enlargement in the upper abdominal area. Deep palpitation may reveal abnormalities related to common bile duct obstruction, helping guide further diagnostic procedures.

How to conduct a Physical Exam for Gallbladder

Conducting a physical exam for the gallbladder involves a systematic approach to assessing signs and symptoms associated with gallbladder disease. Here are the key steps to guide you through the process:

1. Patient positioning

Ensure the patient is prone, lying comfortably on their back. This facilitates access to the abdomen for a thorough examination of the gallbladder area.

2. General inspection

Begin with a general inspection of the abdomen. Look for any signs of jaundice, abdominal distension, or visible masses. Note any visual abnormalities that may provide initial clues about the patient's abdominal health.

3. Focused examination of the right upper quadrant (RUQ)

Concentrate on the right upper quadrant (RUQ) of the abdomen, where the gallbladder is located. Assess for tenderness, swelling, or palpable masses in this area, as these could indicate gallbladder disease.

4. Deep palpation

Perform deep palpation of the RUQ to assess the gallbladder's condition. Use gentle, firm pressure with your fingers to feel for tenderness, swelling, or any irregularities. A positive Murphy's sign, elicited during deep palpation while the patient takes a deep breath, can indicate gallbladder inflammation.

5. Liver enzymes and pancreatic duct assessment:

Consider ordering laboratory tests, including liver enzymes, to evaluate the overall health of the liver. Additionally, consider imaging studies, such as ultrasound, to assess the gallbladder wall and detect abnormalities.

6. Assessment of gallbladder wall

In cases where gallbladder disease is suspected, an ultrasound may reveal thickening or inflammation of the gallbladder wall. This imaging technique provides valuable information to confirm the diagnosis and guide further management.

7. Evaluation for pancreatic duct abnormalities

Given the proximity of the gallbladder to the pancreas, it's essential to consider the possibility of pancreatic duct involvement. Assess for signs or symptoms that may suggest issues with the pancreas, such as pain radiating to the back or abnormal laboratory results.

Gallbladder Physical Exam example (sample)

At Carepatron, we understand the importance of a systematic approach to ensure a thorough examination. Below is a brief introduction to our Gallbladder Physical Exam template, designed to guide healthcare professionals through the process with clarity and efficiency.

Our template begins with patient positioning, emphasizing the significance of a supine posture for optimal access to the gallbladder area. General inspection cues practitioners to observe overall abdominal health, while a focused examination of the right upper quadrant (RUQ) hones in on specific gallbladder indicators. The deep palpation step guides users in assessing tenderness and irregularities properly.

Download this free Physical Exam for Gallbladder example here:

Gallbladder Physical Exam example (sample)

Why use Carepatron as your physical examination software?

When it comes to comprehensive and efficient physical examination management, Carepatron stands out as a reliable and innovative solution like appointment scheduling. Offering a suite of features tailored for healthcare professionals, Carepatron ensures a seamless and organized workflow.

Here's why Carepatron is the optimal choice for your physical examination needs:

General practice management software

Carepatron excels as general practice management software, providing a centralized platform to streamline various aspects of healthcare administration. From appointment scheduling to patient record management, Carepatron enhances overall practice efficiency, allowing healthcare professionals to focus more on patient care.

Physical therapy EMR

Carepatron goes beyond standard practice management by offering a specialized physical therapy electronic medical record (EMR) system. This tailored solution enables physical therapists to maintain organized patient records, track progress, and collaborate seamlessly with other healthcare providers involved in a patient's care.

Comprehensive physical exam resources

Carepatron serves as a treasure trove of resources for those engaged in physical examinations. Whether developing a urinary retention nursing care plan or conducting a urinalysis, Carepatron provides comprehensive tools and information to support your practice. The platform is designed to enhance accuracy and efficiency in physical examinations, offering valuable insights and guidance.

general practice management software
What is a physical exam of the gallbladder?
What is a physical exam of the gallbladder?

Commonly asked questions

What is a physical exam of the gallbladder?

A physical exam of the gallbladder involves a healthcare professional assessing the abdomen, specifically the right upper quadrant, through palpation and observation to identify signs of tenderness, inflammation, or abnormalities associated with gallbladder issues.

What is Collin's sign?

Collin's sign is a clinical finding observed during a physical exam of the gallbladder. It refers to tenderness in the right subcostal area upon inspiration, often indicative of gallbladder inflammation or cholecystitis.

What is Murphy's sign on a sonograph of the gallbladder?

Murphy's sign on a sonograph involves observing for a pause in inspiration due to pain when the ultrasound transducer is pressed over the gallbladder area. This can indicate gallbladder inflammation or obstruction, providing valuable diagnostic information.

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