Gallbladder Disease Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Gallbladder disease is any condition affecting the health of the gallbladder (ie., the digestive sac located under your liver). It is most commonly associated with gallstones, which affects some 25 million Americans, about 10%—15% of the adult population.

In this article, you’ll learn more about who gets gallbladder disease and why, when to see a healthcare provider, and the benefits of early screening for gallbladder disease. 

Older woman talking to doctor

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Gallbladder diseases generally include gallbladder inflammation and gallstones.  An inflamed gallbladder cannot function properly. Gallstones are formed when bile creates blockages in the digestive tract. This blockage causes intermittent pain in the upper right abdomen, under the rib cage. Over time, symptoms can worsen and lead to gallbladder scarring and hardening, as well as infection.

Gallbladder diseases include:

  • Cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation)
  • Gallstones (ranging in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball)
  • Gangrene or abscesses
  • Tissue or tumor growths 
  • Birth or congenital defects of the gallbladder
  • Sclerosing cholangitis (rare disease affecting bile ducts)

How Common Is Gallbladder Disease?

Gallbladder disease is very common. There are an estimated 1.8 million hospital visits per year for gallbladder diseases. This number is said to be an underestimate of the medical burden because most gallbladder problems are addressed so soon after they start.

Gallbladder Disease by Ethnicity

White Americans have been observed to be more affected by gallstones. But the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases points to research suggesting Native Americans, in particular, have genes that raise the amount of cholesterol in their bile. As such, they actually have the highest rate of gallstones in the United States.

Gallbladder Disease by Age and Gender

Age and gender can influence the incidence of gallbladder disease.


The risk of gallbladder disease increases with age. A person’s risk of gallbladder disease increases 4 to 10 times after they reach age 40. The makeup and appearance of gallstones can change with age, too. While gallstones in younger persons are more commonly made up of cholesterol, in older populations it’s more common to find gallstones with black pigment.

Advanced age also increases the risk of health complications associated with having gallstones or gallbladder disease, say researchers.


Cisgender women are said to be twice as likely to develop gallbladder disease than cisgender men. This is particularly true during the female reproductive years. The gender gap begins narrowing during later life post-menopause years. These findings suggest sex hormones such as estrogen play a role in risk of developing gallbladder disease.

Therapies that affect sex hormone levels (i.e., oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy) can increase your chance of developing cholesterol gallbladder stones.

Causes of Gallbladder Disease and Risk Factors

Most commonly the cause of gallbladder disease is gallstones. While ethnicity, age, and gender play a role in gallbladder disease development, there are other risk factors you should know about. 

Additional risk factors for gallstones include:

  • Excessive cholesterol or bilirubin in bile
  • Certain hormones or medications that make the emptying function of the gallbladder slow and promotes the buildup of bile
  • Having obesity (particularly carrying weight around the waist)
  • Pregnancy
  • Rapid weight loss, which can increase cholesterol release
  • Sedentary lifestyle (not being active)
  • Having diabetes, insulin resistance, or liver disease
  • Having a family history of gallstones
  • People with certain health conditions affecting nutrient absorption or digestive functioning

What Are the Mortality Rates for Gallbladder Disease?

Having gallbladder disease increases overall mortality (death) and mortality associated with cardiovascular disease. A study found that the mortality rate for gallbladder disease is 16.5%.

Mortality rates increase if gallbladder disease goes untreated. This is because gallstones can lead to serious health complications, including developing gallbladder cancer.

It was estimated that more than 12,000 new cases of gallbladder cancer would be diagnosed in 2022 in the United States. Mortality rates for gallbladder cancer are higher than for gallbladder disease. Part of the higher risk of mortality is due to cancer typically being detected in later stages, after spreading.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) adds that only about 1 in 5 gallbladder cancers is found in the early stages, before the cancer has had a chance to spread. Mortality rates are directly associated with time of detection.

Most gallbladder diseases are treatable with surgery and most people recover in about six weeks.

Screening and Early Detection

It’s said that gallbladder disease can sneak up on a person and you may not experience gallstone symptoms right away. This means by the time you experience significant symptoms or seek support from a healthcare provider, the condition may already be serious.

But screening and early detection are done with standard lab tests like an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in an outpatient setting. If present, gallstones can then be removed, reducing the risk of long-term damage by scarring. 

Gallbladder Cancer Screening 

When found early, there's a 66% five-year survival rate, meaning on average, someone who is diagnosed at this early stage (when the cancer is still localized), has a 66% chance of living five more years. If screening and early detection are missed, and the gallbladder cancer is found after spreading to what's called a "distant" location, the five-year survival rate drops to 2%.

Survival rates are estimates based on data averages. Bear in mind your personal risk factors are more complex and your healthcare provider can provide a more accurate picture of your prognosis.

Survival Rates Based on Gallbladder Cancer Stage
 Gallbladder Cancer Stage 5-Year Survival Rate
 Localized (remaining where it began)  66%
 Regional (some spreading)  28%
 Distant (cancer has spread far)  2%
 All stages combined (average rate)  19%

Gallbladder surgery complications are very rare, so the benefit of treatment far outweighs risk. Removing gallstones also reduces risk of developing gallbladder cancer, although gallbladder cancer is still rare even in people with gallstones.


Gallbladder disease refers to several types of diseases affecting the health and functioning of the gallbladder. These diseases result in inflammation and gallstone formation. Gallstones are common, and the risk for developing them increases with age.

Gallbladder disease also can develop from taking certain medications or health conditions that impact gallbladder functioning. A healthcare provider can detect and remove any gallstones you may have. This effectively reduces the risk of getting other health complications, including rare gallbladder cancer.

A Word From Verywell

Gallbladder diseases are serious, but they can be treated. If you experience any symptoms of gallbladder disease, don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider to treat it before it gets more serious.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.