Gallstone Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options


Gallstones, which are hardened collections of digestive fluid, can form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that is located on the right side of your abdomen, underneath your liver. The small intestine receives bile, a digesting fluid, which is secreted from the gallbladder.

Gallstones can be in sizes ranging from a grain of sand to a golf ball. One gallstone may form in some people while many stones may form simultaneously in others.

Gallbladder removal surgery is typically necessary for those who have symptoms related to their gallstones. Treatment is often not necessary for gallstones that do not produce any symptoms or indicators.


The exact reason gallstones form is unknown. Gallstones, according to doctors, may develop when:

  • There is too much cholesterol in your bile. The chemicals in your bile typically have enough strength to degrade the cholesterol your liver excretes. However, if your liver excretes more cholesterol than your bile can break down, it may crystallise and eventually turn into stones.
  • There is too much bilirubin in your bile. The chemical bilirubin is created when your body destroys red blood cells. Under some conditions, such as liver cirrhosis, biliary tract infections, and some blood illnesses, your liver produces excessive amounts of bilirubin. The formation of gallstones is impacted by too much bilirubin.
  • Your gallbladder does not properly drain. Bile may become extremely concentrated if your gallbladder does not drain completely or frequently enough, which might lead to the development of gallstones.

How to check if you have Gallstones?

Consult your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms or signs.

Seek immediate medical assistance if you encounter any of the following serious gallstone complications:

  • Due to terrible stomach discomfort, you are unable to sit still or find a comfortable posture.
  • The whites of your eyes and skin are becoming yellow (jaundice)
  • You experience chills and a high fever

Types of Gallstones

The following types of gallstones can develop in the gallbladder:

Stones are made of cholesterol. The most common type of gallstone, a cholesterol gallstone, is often yellow in colour. These gallstones may also contain other materials, however the undissolved cholesterol makes up the majority of them.

Colour gallstones. These dark brown or black stones may form when your bile contains an excessive quantity of bilirubin.

Risk Factors

The following elements may increase your risk of gallstones:

  • Being a woman
  • Being a Native American and older than 40
  • Being overweight or obese 
  • Being a Hispanic of Mexican descent
  • Being inactive
  • Eating a lot of fat while pregnant
  • Consuming a diet rich in cholesterol
  • Eating a diet low in fibre
  • Having gallstones run in the family as a medical condition
  • Being a diabetic
  • Having blood conditions like sickle cell anaemia or leukaemia
  • Weight loss that happens quickly
  • Taking estrogen-containing medications, such as those used for hormone therapy or oral contraceptives
  • Experiencing liver disease


Gallstones may not show any symptoms at all. The following indications and symptoms could appear as a result of a gallstone blocking a duct:

  • Upper right abdominal region pain that develops suddenly and quickly
  • Immediately below your breastbone, in the middle of your abdomen, there is a sharp, swiftly escalating pain.
  • Between your shoulder blades, backache
  • Your right shoulder hurts
  • Nausea or diarrhoea
  • Pain from gallstones might continue for a few minutes to several hours.


The likelihood of developing gallstones is lower if you:

Avoid skipping meals. Consider eating at the same time each day. Fasting or skipping meals both raise the risk of gallstones.

Slowly lose weight. Go slowly if you need to lose weight. Rapid weight reduction might increase the risk of gallstones. Aim for weekly weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogramme).

Eat more foods high in fibre. Increase your intake of fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Keep a healthy weight. Overweight and obese individuals are more prone to developing gallstones. You may strive toward reaching a healthy weight by consuming fewer calories and exercising more. As soon as you reach a healthy weight, by sticking to a balanced diet and regular exercise, try to maintain that weight.

Most people with gallstones who do not exhibit any symptoms will not ever require medical attention. Your symptoms and the findings of any diagnostic testing will be used by your doctor to decide if treatment for gallstones is necessary.

A worsening upper right abdomen pain is one indicator of gallstone issues that your doctor could urge you to watch out for. In the future, if symptoms and signs of gallstones appear, you can receive treatment.

Gallstone treatment options include:

Operative gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy). Your doctor could suggest having your gallbladder surgically removed since gallstones typically reappear. Bile no longer needs to be kept in the gallbladder once it has been removed; instead, it passes directly from the liver into the small intestine.

Your ability to survive without your gallbladder and the effects of gallbladder removal affect your capacity to digest meals, but it might also lead to temporary diarrhoea.

Drugs that remove gallstones. Oral medicines may be used to eliminate gallstones. However, it can take months or years of treatment to completely eliminate your gallstones in this manner, and if treatment is discontinued, new gallstones would probably grow.

Drugs occasionally fail to work. Gallstone medications are not frequently prescribed and are only for those who are unable to have surgery.

Complications of Gallstones

Gallstone complications could result in:

Gallbladder inflammation. Gallbladder inflammation may result from a gallstone that becomes stuck in the gallbladder's neck (cholecystitis). Cholecystitis can result in fever and excruciating pain.

A typical bile duct blockage. Gallstones can obstruct the ducts that carry bile from your liver or gallbladder to your small intestine. Possible effects include bile duct infection, excruciating pain, and jaundice.

A pancreatic duct blockage. The common bile duct and the pancreatic duct are connected by a tube that leaves the pancreas and travels to the duodenum. The pancreatic duct is where the digestive pancreatic fluids travel.

A gallstone can induce a blockage in the pancreatic duct, which can lead to inflammation of the pancreas pancreatitis). In most cases, pancreatitis necessitates hospitalisation because it produces severe, ongoing abdominal discomfort.

Bile duct cancer. Gallbladder cancer is more likely to develop in those who have had gallstones in the past. However, even if the danger of developing cancer is higher, there is still a very little chance that you will develop gallbladder cancer.

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Page last reviewed: Mar 14, 2023

Next review due: Mar 14, 2025

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