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Colic & Adults

author image Amber Kelsey
Growing up in a family full of landscapers and carpenters, Amber Kelsey learned all about home and garden topics through osmosis. Her articles in The Green Girl's Guide and Altar demonstrate her eco-friendly nature, and she uses organic practices in her various gardens. Kelsey holds master's degrees in English writing and cultural anthropology.
Colic & Adults
A MRI may be able to detect adult biliary colic. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images

Most people associate colic with crying, fussy infants, but adults can also suffer from a certain type of colic. Biliary colic is a health condition characterized by extreme pain in your upper abdomen. This pain happens when a blockage occurs in part of your biliary system, which includes your gallbladder, bile duct and cystic duct.


Adults with colic typically feel pressure or aches in the upper abdomen. Harvard Medical School's Patient Education Center explains that the pain often occurs in the upper right part of your abdomen near your liver and gallbladder. Sometimes the pains occur just below your breastbone. The pain might radiate towards your right shoulder, and doesn't improve when you change positions. Drugs.com notes that the pain may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Biliary colic episodes often happen right after you eat a meal, especially one high in fat. You might also suffer from nausea, vomiting and jaundiced skin or eyes.

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Drugs.com reports that biliary colic is commonly caused by gallstones that become stuck in your cystic duct or bile. These gallstones make your gallbladder squeeze very hard to push the bile around the blockage. These extreme contractions cause you to feel pain. This adult form of colic might also be caused by inflammation of the gallbladder, pancreas or small intestine. Biliary colic sometimes occurs after a bile duct or a gallbladder injury.


Before diagnosing you with biliary colic, medical practitioners typically review your symptoms and medical history. Penn State's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center explains that physicians often order abdominal ultrasound tests or computed tomography scans, also called CT or CAT scans, to view your internal organs and check for blockages. Drugs.com adds that you might undergo magnetic resonance cholangiography, which takes pictures of your biliary system with a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, machine.


Biliary colic treatments vary according to the severity of your symptoms. You might be prescribed antibiotics, anti-nausea medicine or anti-spasmodic medication, which stops your gallbladder from contracting. Some adult colic sufferers require oral dissolution therapy, which involves consuming medicine that dissolve gallstones. Drugs.com notes that more severe colic cases might require a cholecystectomy, or gallbladder removal surgery.


Drugs.com warns that unless you receive professional medical treatment for your biliary colic, the pain may return and worsen over time. The blockage might infect your bile duct or gallbladder, and these infections can cause very serious health problems. Talk to your health care provider if you suspect you have biliary colic.

Risk Factors

You have a greater risk of contracting biliary colic if other family members have this condition. Drugs.com reports that you are more likely to suffer with this ailment if you also have diabetes, liver cirrhosis or hemolytic diseases. The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center adds that obesity and high cholesterol levels are additional risk factors.

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