Cholecystitis is an acute or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder, usually associated with gallstone(s) impacted in the cystic duct, causing distension of the gallbladder. Stones (calculi) are made up of cholesterol, calcium bilirubinate, or a mixture caused by changes in the bile composition. Gallstones can develop in the common bile duct, the cystic duct, hepatic duct, small bile duct, and pancreatic duct. Crystals can also form in the submucosa of the gallbladder causing widespread inflammation. Acute cholecystitis with cholelithiasis is usually treated by surgery, although several other treatment methods (fragmentation and dissolution of stones) are now being used.

Diagnostic Studies

  • Biliary ultrasound: Reveals calculi, with gallbladder and/or bile duct distension (frequently the initial diagnostic procedure).
  • Oral cholecystography (OCG): Preferred method of visualizing general appearance and function of gallbladder, including presence of filling defects, structural defects, and/or stone in ducts/biliary tree. Can be done IV (IVC) when nausea/vomiting prevent oral intake, when the gallbladder cannot be visualized during OCG, or when symptoms persist following cholecystectomy. IVC may also be done perioperatively to assess structure and function of ducts, detect remaining stones after lithotripsy or cholecystectomy, and/or to detect surgical complications. Dye can also be injected via T-tube drain postoperatively.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): Visualizes biliary tree by cannulation of the common bile duct through the duodenum.
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC): Fluoroscopic imaging distinguishes between gallbladder disease and cancer of the pancreas (when jaundice is present); supports the diagnosis of obstructive jaundice and reveals calculi in ducts.
  • Cholecystograms (for chronic cholecystitis): Reveals stones in the biliary system. Note:Contraindicated in acute cholecystitis because patient is too ill to take the dye by mouth.
  • Nonnuclear CT scan: May reveal gallbladder cysts, dilation of bile ducts, and distinguish between obstructive/nonobstructive jaundice.
  • Hepatobiliary (HIDA, PIPIDA) scan: May be done to confirm diagnosis of cholecystitis, especially when barium studies are contraindicated. Scan may be combined with cholecystokinin injection to demonstrate abnormal gallbladder ejection.
  • Abdominal x-ray films (multipositional): Radiopaque (calcified) gallstones present in 10%–15% of cases; calcification of the wall or enlargement of the gallbladder.
  • Chest x-ray: Rule out respiratory causes of referred pain.
  • CBC: Moderate leukocytosis (acute).
  • Serum bilirubin and amylase: Elevated.
  • Serum liver enzymes—AST; ALT; ALP; LDH: Slight elevation; alkaline phosphatase and 5-nucleotidase are markedly elevated in biliary obstruction.
  • Prothrombin levels: Reduced when obstruction to the flow of bile into the intestine decreases absorption of vitamin K.

Nursing Priorities

  1. Relieve pain and promote rest.
  2. Maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.
  3. Prevent complications.
  4. Provide information about disease process, prognosis, and treatment needs.

Discharge Goals

  1. Pain relieved.
  2. Homeostasis achieved.
  3. Complications prevented/minimized.
  4. Disease process, prognosis, and therapeutic regimen understood.
  5. Plan in place to meet needs after discharge

Nursing Care Plans

Here are 4 Nursing Care Plan (NCP) for Cholecystitis

Risk for Deficient Fluid Volume

NURSING DIAGNOSIS: Fluid Volume, risk for deficient

Risk factors may include

  • Excessive losses through gastric suction; vomiting, distension, and gastric hyper­motility
  • Medically restricted intake
  • Altered clotting process

Possibly evidenced by

  • [Not applicable; presence of signs and symptoms and establishes an actual diagnosis.]

Desired Outcomes

  • Demonstrate adequate fluid balance evidenced by stable vital signs, moist mucous membranes, good skin turgor, capillary refill, individually appropriate urinary output, absence of vomiting.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
 Maintain accurate record of I&O, noting output less than intake, increased urine specific gravity. Assess skin/mucous membranes, peripheral pulses, and capillary refill.  Provides information about fluid status/circulating volume and replacement needs.
 Monitor for signs/symptoms of increased/continued nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps, weakness, twitching, seizures, irregular heart rate, paresthesia, hypoactive or absent bowel sounds, depressed respirations.  Prolonged vomiting, gastric aspiration, and restricted oral intake can lead to deficits in sodium, potassium, and chloride.
 Eliminate noxious sights/smells from environment.  Reduces stimulation of vomiting center.
 Perform frequent oral hygiene with alcohol-free mouthwash; apply lubricants.  Decreases dryness of oral mucous membranes; reduces risk of oral bleeding.
 Use small-gauge needles for injections and apply firm pressure for longer than usual after venipuncture.  Reduces trauma, risk of bleeding/hematoma formation.
 Assess for unusual bleeding, e.g., oozing from injection sites, epistaxis, bleeding gums, ecchymosis, petechiae, hematemesis/melena.  Prothrombin is reduced and coagulation time prolonged when bile flow is obstructed, increasing risk of bleeding/hemorrhage.
 Keep patient NPO as necessary.  Decreases GI secretions and motility.
 Insert NG tube, connect to suction, and maintain patency as indicated.  To rest the GI Tract

Acute Pain


May be related to

  • Biological injuring agents: obstruction/ductal spasm, inflammatory process, tissue ischemia/necrosis

Possibly evidenced by

  • Reports of pain, biliary colic (waves of pain)
  • Facial mask of pain; guarding behavior
  • Autonomic responses (changes in BP, pulse)
  • Self-focusing; narrowed focus

Desired Outcomes

  • Report pain is relieved/controlled.
  • Demonstrate use of relaxation skills and diversional activities as indicated for individual situation.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
 Observe and document location, severity (0–10 scale), and character of pain (e.g., steady, intermittent, colicky).  Assists in differentiating cause of pain, and provides information about disease progression/resolution, development of complications, and effectiveness of interventions.
 Note response to medication, and report to physician if pain is not being relieved.  Severe pain not relieved by routine measures may indicate developing complications/need for further intervention.
Promote bedrest, allowing patient to assume position of comfort.  Bedrest in low-Fowler’s position reduces intra-abdominal pressure; however, patient will naturally assume least painful position.
 Use soft/cotton linens; calamine lotion, oil bath; cool/moist compresses as indicated.  Reduces irritation/dryness of the skin and itching sensation.
 Control environmental temperature.  Cool surroundings aid in minimizing dermal discomfort.
 Encourage use of relaxation techniques, e.g., guided imagery, visualization, deep-breathing exercises. Provide diversional activities.  Promotes rest, redirects attention, may enhance coping.
 Make time to listen to and maintain frequent contact with patient.  Helpful in alleviating anxiety and refocusing attention, which can relieve pain.
 Maintain NPO status, insert/maintain NG suction as indicated.  Removes gastric secretions that stimulate release of cholecystokinin and gallbladder contractions.
Administer medications as indicated:Anticholinergics, e.g., atropine, propantheline (Pro-Banthı-ne);Sedatives, e.g., phenobarbital;Narcotics, e.g., meperidine hydrochloride (Demerol), morphine sulfate;




Monoctanoin (Moctanin);






Smooth muscle relaxants, e.g., papaverine (Pavabid), nitroglycerin, amyl nitrite;


Chenodeoxycholic acid (Chenix), ursodeoxycholic acid (Urso, Actigall);





Relieves reflex spasm/smooth muscle contraction and assists with pain management.Promotes rest and relaxes smooth muscle, relieving pain.Given to reduce severe pain. Morphine is used with caution because it may increase spasms of the sphincter of Oddi, although nitroglycerin may be given to reduce morphine-induced spasms if they occur. 

This medication may be used after a cholecystectomy for retained stones or for newly formed large stones in the bile duct. It is a lengthy treatment (1–3 wk) and is administered via a nasal-biliary tube. A cholangiogram is done periodically to monitor stone dissolution.


Relieves ductal spasm.



These natural bile acids decrease cholesterol synthesis, dissolving gallstones. Success of this treatment depends on the number and size of gallstones (preferably three or fewer stones smaller than 20 min in diameter) floating in a functioning gallbladder.



To treat infectious process, reducing inflammation.

Risk for Imbalanced Nutrition

NURSING DIAGNOSIS: Risk for Imbalanced Nutrition: Less Than Body Requirements

Risk factors may include

  • Self-imposed or prescribed dietary restrictions, nausea/vomiting, dyspepsia, pain
  • Loss of nutrients; impaired fat digestion due to obstruction of bile flow

Possibly evidenced by

  • [Not applicable; presence of signs and symptoms establishes an actual diagnosis.]

Desired Outcomes

  • Report relief of nausea/vomiting.
  • Demonstrate progression toward desired weight gain or maintain weight as individually appropriate.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
 Estimate/calculate caloric intake. Keep comments about appetite to a minimum.  Identifies nutritional deficiencies/needs. Focusing on problem creates a negative atmosphere and may interfere with intake.
 Weigh as indicated.  Monitors effectiveness of dietary plan.
 Consult with patient about likes/dislikes, foods that cause distress, and preferred meal schedule. Involving patient in planning enables patient to have a sense of control and encourages eating.
 Provide a pleasant atmosphere at mealtime; remove noxious stimuli. Useful in promoting appetite/reducing nausea.
 Provide oral hygiene before meals. A clean mouth enhances appetite.
 Offer effervescent drinks with meals, if tolerated. May lessen nausea and relieve gas. Note:May be contraindicated if beverage causes gas formation/gastric discomfort.
 Assess for abdominal distension, frequent belching, guarding, reluctance to move. Nonverbal signs of discomfort associated with impaired digestion, gas pain.
 Ambulate and increase activity as tolerated. Helpful in expulsion of flatus, reduction of abdominal distension. Contributes to overall recovery and sense of well-being and decreases possibility of secondary problems related to immobility 9e.g., pneumonia, thrombophlebitis).
 Consult with dietitian/nutritional support team as indicated. Useful in establishing individual nutritional needs and most appropriate route.
 Begin low-fat liquid diet after NG tube is removed. Limiting fat content reduces stimulation of gallbladder and pain associated with incomplete fat digestion and is helpful in preventing recurrence.
 Advance diet as tolerated, usually low-fat, high-fiber. Restrict gas-producing foods (e.g., onions, cabbage, popcorn) and foods/fluids high in fats (e.g., butter, fried foods, nuts). Meets nutritional requirements while minimizing stimulation of the gallbladder.
Administer bile salts, e.g., Bilron, Zanchol, dehydrocholic acid (Decholin), as indicated. Promotes digestion and absorption of fats, fat-soluble vitamins, cholesterol. Useful in chronic cholecystitis.
Monitor laboratory studies, e.g., BUN, prealbumin, albumin, total protein, transferrin levels. Provides information about nutritional deficits/effectiveness of therapy.
Provide parenteral/enteral feedings as needed. Alternative feeding may be required depending on degree of disability/gallbladder involvement and need for prolonged gastric rest.

Deficient Knowledge

NURSING DIAGNOSIS: Deficient Knowledge

May be related to

  • Lack of knowledge/recall
  • Information misinterpretation
  • Unfamiliarity with information resources

Possibly evidenced by

  • Questions; request for information
  • Statement of misconception
  • Inaccurate follow-through of instruction
  • Development of preventable complications

Desired Outcomes

  • Verbalize understanding of disease process, prognosis, potential complications.
  • Verbalize understanding of therapeutic needs.
  • Initiate necessary lifestyle changes and participate in treatment regimen.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
 Provide explanations of/reasons for test procedures and preparation needed.  Information can decrease anxiety, thereby reducing sympathetic stimulation.
 Review disease process/prognosis. Discuss hospitalization and prospective treatment as indicated. Encourage questions, expression of concern.  Provides knowledge base from which patient can make informed choices. Effective communication and support at this time can diminish anxiety and promote healing.
 Review drug regimen, possible side effects.  Gallstones often recur, necessitating long-term therapy. Development of diarrhea/cramps during chenodiol therapy may be dose-related/correctable. Note: Women of childbearing age should be counseled regarding birth control to prevent pregnancy and risk of fetal hepatic damage.
 Discuss weight reduction programs if indicated  Obesity is a risk factor associated with cholecystitis, and weight loss is beneficial in medical management of chronic condition.
 Instruct patient to avoid food/fluids high in fats (e.g., whole milk, ice cream, butter, fried foods, nuts, gravies, pork), gas producers (e.g., cabbage, beans, onions, carbonated beverages), or gastric irritants (e.g., spicy foods, caffeine, citrus).  Prevents/limits recurrence of gallbladder attacks.
 Review signs/symptoms requiring medical intervention, e.g., recurrent fever; persistent nausea/vomiting, or pain; jaundice of skin or eyes, itching; dark urine; clay-colored stools; blood in urine, stools, vomitus; or bleeding from mucous membranes.  Indicative of progression of disease process/development of complications requiring further intervention.
 Recommend resting in semi-Fowler’s position after meals.  Promotes flow of bile and general relaxation during initial digestive process.
 Suggest patient limit gum chewing, sucking on straw/hard candy, or smoking.  Promotes gas formation, which can increase gastric distension/discomfort.
 Discuss avoidance of aspirin-containing products, forceful blowing of nose, straining for bowel movement, contact sports.  Reduces risk of bleeding related to changes in coagulation time, mucosal irritation, and trauma.
 Recommend use of soft toothbrush, electric razor.  Reduces risk of bleeding related to changes in coagulation time, mucosal irritation, and trauma.