| | | | |

Difference between gallbladder symptoms and acid reflux pain

Drawing of digestive tract over photo of person in gray shirt to show difference between gallbladder symptoms and acid reflux pain.

So, is it abdominal pain that’s stressing you out today? You may be feeling a bit off and experiencing some pain in the tummy but what could be causing it? Here we will go through the similarities and differences of 2 abdominal issues that may be the culprit behind your discomfort. I just LOVE getting to a root cause! Don’t you? Once you have some more information, you will be able to get on your way to healing. So let’s dive in! What is the difference between gallbladder symptoms vs acid reflux pain?

Similarities between gallbladder symptoms and acid reflux pain

Woman with red shirt holding a sandwich and her upper abdomen to demonstrate similarities between gallbladder symptoms and acid reflux pain.

The good news when trying to narrow things down a bit is that there are only a couple of similarities while there are many differences. So, we should be able to isolate this pretty quickly when we look into it further. This will be great!

1. Upper abdominal pain. 

The stomach (reflux pain) and the gallbladder are both in the upper quadrants of the abdomen. If you picture your abdomen as a rectangle and divide it into 4 squares, both of these would cause symptoms above the belly button in the top 2 areas. This may be why you are wondering which of the 2 you may be dealing with.

2. Worse after eating. 

Both of these conditions are generally worse after eating food. You may know what I’m talking about right? Feeling quite uncomfortable after eating your favorite meal is awful!

3. Lying down after meals increases pain.

The final similarity is that you may experience pain if you eat and then lie down too quickly. Being horizontal is not friendly for either issue here. 

Now let’s transition to the DIFFERENCE between gallbladder symptoms vs acid reflux pain.

Gallbladder Disease

Illustration of green gallbladder held by 2 forceps

You gallbladder is a somewhat small, pear-shaped organ that sits right below your liver. I love the abdomen because you can get a good idea of the medical conditions that may be going on just by looking at where the pain is. The gallbladder is on the upper right side of the abdomen and that is usually where symptoms of a gallbladder attack will show up.

What does the gallbladder do?

Your gallbladder stores bile. Bile is the liquid that your liver makes to help you digest fats. After eating, the gallbladder wall will squeeze bile into a small tube called the cystic duct. As the gallbladder contracts the bile will continue into the common bile duct which squirts it into the small intestine to help with digestion.

Causes of Gallbladder pain

Illustration of gallstones filling up gallbladder to show a cause of gallbladder symptoms and acid reflux pain.

The most common cause of gallbladder pain (biliary colic/biliary pain) is a gallstone or many gallstones. This is called cholelithiasis (chole means gallbladder and lith means stone). Medical terminology is pretty nifty right?? LOL.

Sometimes you can just have inflammation of the gallbladder with no stones and that is known as acute cholecystitis. Small stones are actually quite common and sometimes you aren’t aware that they are there. 

However, if you have a sudden onset of severe pain in the upper right abdomen, you should seek immediate medical attention. The reason being, is because these stones can interfere with the bile ducts that connect your gallbladder to other parts of your body. 

Depending on what types of gallstones are present and their location, the flow of bile can be disturbed and can lead to pancreatitis.

To read more see this article from the Cleveland clinic.

Risk factors for gallbladder problems

  • Higher in females in or around their 40’s
  • Smokers
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Formation of gallstones

It is generally but not clearly understood how gallstones form in the first place. One way is by having bile that contains too much cholesterol or too much bilirubin that can harden. Another is by having poor gallbladder contraction. Although there aren’t correlations between particular diets and gallstones, we know enough to add some anti-inflammatory nutrition to the diet and use supplements to get the gallbladder contracting well. 

Gallbladder attack symptoms

Male patient in white t-shirt holding right side of abdomen to demonstrate a gallbladder attack in
  • Severe abdominal pain especially in the right upper abdomen.
  • Sharp pain
  • Pain is worse following a fatty or greasy meal. Usually fried chicken or a greasy pizza will do the trick (so to speak).
  • The pain may travel to other parts of the body like the right shoulder blade. This is a classic!
  • Rapid weight loss can occur due to the amount of pain that is caused by eating.

Diagnostic tests can help to diagnose the difference between gallbladder symptoms vs acid reflux pain.

Gallstones spelled out in alphabet magnets with a stethoscope.

The best way to come up with treatment options is to get a proper diagnosis. You can do that through a few different methods. It’s important to know if you are dealing with a serious medical condition or if it is just inflammation that you can address through natural means. And I always suggest starting conservatively whenever humanly possible!

Unlike kidney stones, gallstones don’t show up very well on traditional X-rays so you will likely need to get one of the following tests from your healthcare provider.

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (specialized test that uses a combination of a scope down your throat and X-rays to examine the ducts)
  • Blood tests can help determine if this is affecting your pancreas (elevated amylase and lipase enzymes). 
  • Ultrasound
  • Barium exam

Common treatments for stones

Surgical removal of the gallbladder via laparoscopic (small cuts) surgery that is performed under general anesthesia. This is also known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. People that fall into this category are highly likely to experience pain and gallstone “attack” along with other symptoms of gallstones that we mentioned above. These symptoms shouldn’t be dismissed and should be dealt with appropriately. Better to just get on it and address it head on.

If gallbladder removal is something you are considering or have already had performed, there are ways that you can still support the pathways involved and keep some common symptoms at bay that may occur post-op. It’s always wild when a patient comes in with gallbladder issues even after a gallbladder surgery. 

You may like to research some traditional chinese medicine (TCM) to start understanding how our bodies formed pathways or meridians in utero and are connected for a lifetime. It’s some very powerful information!

No stones or stones that don’t need medical treatment

*This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Most of the time patients that fall into this category have had chronic gallbladder disease but not symptomatic gallstones. You can try things like…

  • Lifestyle changes like yoga and eating more fruits and vegetables. 
  • Cut back on the consumption of a fatty meal until you get the inflammation to calm down.
  • A gallbladder cleanse.
  • Lysimachiae herba (gold coin grass). Check it out here.
  • Milk Thistle: see this article. Check it out here
  • Eat more artichoke to support your gallbladder
  • Try some acupuncture: see this article.
  • You may also want to look into castor oil packs. There are some pretty incredible testimonials about this one.

Other gallbladder conditions that could cause symptoms

  • Gallbladder polyps
  • Gallbladder cancer

Difference between gallbladder symptoms vs acid reflux pain

Illustration of stomach on fire to show  acid reflux pain.

Heartburn also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease. Let’s first take a look at the following symptoms associated with acid reflux.

  • A burning sensation
  • Chest pain
  • May feel like a heart attack in severe cases. Please proceed to the emergency room if there is any doubt or if you have any history with heart disease.
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Stomach pain (left side of the upper abdomen)
  • Pressure over the abdomen. 
  • This may sound strange but the pain may also increase while having a bowel movement due to the intrathecal pressure increase that happens when bearing down.

Common causes of acid reflux

Hiatal hernia
Illustration of hiatal hernia

This may feel like golf ball or lump at the bottom of your ribs on the left side. 

This condition can be diagnosed with an X-ray or an upper endoscopy. I would suggest looking into natural treatment for this before having a laparoscopic surgery. There have been many great and effective ways to treat hiatal hernia and acid reflux naturally. 

While gallstones are mostly viewed similarly in the natural vs medical world, heartburn causes a source of controversy, imagine that! LOL!.

Too much acid??? Really??
pH levels demonstrated with different colors of the rainbow in gallbladder symptoms and acid reflux pain.

The mechanistic view of this condition is that the amount of stomach acid is too high and therefore decreasing the pH level of the acid will decrease the symptoms. The problem with this thinking is that it isn’t supported well by research (at least not long term research). Patients that take acid lowering medications still experience heartburn in most cases.

You digestive system was designed to do just that…digest. If we lower the acidity of the stomach acid, our ability to digest our food will be severely decreased. When we decrease our digestive function we lower the amount of nutrients that we are absorbing. We LOVE our nutrients and need them to stay healthy.

Also, if food particles that aren’t well digested are allowed to go through the walls of the intestines (leaky gut which is quite common), they can be absorbed into the blood stream and eventually cause  an autoimmune reaction. Your body will basically attack the food particles because they are identified as foreign objects. Once this happens for a while, you body can start to attack itself.

Possible causes of your heartburn and abdominal discomfort

Picture of blue spikes coming out of the brain to demonstrate stress as a cause for acid reflux pain.

STRESS!!!!! Here we go again right? When you are stressed your sphincter muscles don’t close properly. Your sympathetic nervous system doesn’t allow for digestive functions to work well since you are trying to survive a life threatening event. 

See this related post: What is a stress reaction and how to decrease symptoms.

Your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the area of concern with heartburn. If it isn’t closed tightly, gastric acid will be allowed to go up into the esophagus and cause symptoms. We need to focus on getting to the root cause and addressing it which for most people is STRESS. 

Please download my free stress ebook for some quick physiology hacks to reduce stress quickly.


Most people will self treat this with over the counter medications. I know many people that carry around a stack of tums everywhere they go just to get some pain relief. I’m sure you do too. While that’s an option it doesn’t offer long term benefits or the resolution of the condition. 

A more appropriate treatment in my opinion is:

  • Deep breathing and parasympathetic activation.
  • Dietary changes to include more nutrients like an awesome green juice or smoothie. I love these!
  • Apple cider vinegar (try 2tbsp, 2x/day). Most people experience great results within a few weeks.
  • Digestive Enzymes
  • Zypan! This is the best because it actually has HCL and will help your digestion tremendously! Take 2 with meals and 3 with heavy steak dinners!


It’s my sincere hope that you found something here that helped you and decreased your stress levels slightly. I hope you have learned something about your abdominal symptoms and have found some powerful and practical ways of how to decrease symptoms and reduce stress. Please let me know how I can help you further along your journey and also subscribe to my email list if you would like more content like this. I would also LOVE it if you would share this with someone that you think would benefit from it. 

I’m so proud of you for seeking out answers and getting better than you were yesterday! Talk to you soon. 

Dr. Bri


The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bri, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of its authors. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. 

If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.

Similar Posts