Gallbladder Empyema Clinical Presentation

Updated: Nov 30, 2021
  • Author: Benjamin Pace, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Praveen K Roy, MD, MSc  more...
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The clinical history of a patient with empyema of the gallbladder is similar to that of a patient with acute cholecystitis (from which the empyema derives). As the disease progresses, severe pain and associated high fever, chills, and even rigors may be reported. Patients with diabetes or immunosuppression may exhibit few signs and symptoms.


Physical Examination

Patients with an early empyema of the gallbladder often present no differently than any patient with acute cholecystitis, with symptoms that include fever (temperature, >101°F), stable blood pressure, and mild tachycardia. However, if localized or free perforation has occurred and/or the patient has generalized sepsis, fevers (temperature, 103°F), chills and/or rigors, and confusion may be observed in association with hypotension and severe tachycardia.

Early in the disease process, abdominal examination findings are similar to those of patients with acute cholecystitis, with mild-to-moderate tenderness in the right upper abdomen and a positive Murphy sign (ie, arrest of inspiration as the gallbladder descends to touch a hand previously placed deep in the mid right abdomen).

As the disease progresses, empyema of the gallbladder may be associated with a palpable distended gallbladder that is markedly tender on even superficial palpation.