Gallstones: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

Gallstones: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

Gallstones are small, hard deposits that form in your gallbladder — a pear-shaped organ under your liver that stores bile, a digestive fluid made by your liver. Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. They usually don’t cause symptoms until they block the duct that drains bile from your gallbladder (cholelithiasis). Although most gallstones leave your body without causing any harm, some can cause severe pain in your upper abdomen that may require surgery to remove your gallbladder (cholecystectomy).

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are small, hard deposits that form in your gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just below your liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by your liver.

Bile consists of cholesterol, bile salts, and waste products. Bile helps you digest fats. Gallstones can form when there is too much cholesterol in your bile or when the bile contains too much bilirubin, a waste product.

Most gallstones don’t cause any symptoms and don’t need to be treated. If you have symptoms or complications from gallstones, treatment may involve removing the gallbladder (cholecystectomy).

You’re more likely to develop gallstones if you:

  • Are female
  • Are over age 60
  • Have a family history of gallstones
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have diabetes
  • Eat a high-fat diet

What causes gallstones?

The vast majority of gallstones are made up of cholesterol. Other components can include bilirubin and calcium salts. Gallstones can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball.

There are two types of gallstones:

  1. Cholesterol stones are usually yellow-green and made up mostly of cholesterol. They form when there’s too much cholesterol in your bile or not enough bile acids to break it down.
  2. Pigment stones are smaller and darker, made up of bilirubin. They form when your liver produces too much bilirubin (a byproduct of red blood cells) or your gallbladder doesn’t empty properly. Bilirubin stones are more common in people with certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia.

Gallstones develop when there’s an imbalance in the substances that make up bile in your gallbladder. Bile is a fluid that helps digest fats in the small intestine. Bile is made up of water, cholesterol, bile acids, and bilirubin.

Normally, the components of bile remain dissolved because they’re constantly moving through the small intestine and being absorbed into the bloodstream. But if something slows down the movement of bile or changes the composition of bile, crystals can form and harden over time into gallstones.”

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

The most common symptom of gallstones is pain in the upper right abdomen. This pain may radiate to the back or shoulder blades. The pain is often worse after eating a meal, and it may come and go.

Other symptoms of gallstones include:






How are gallstones diagnosed?

There are a few ways that gallstones can be diagnosed. An ultrasound is a common method, as it can detect stones in the gallbladder. A CT scan or MRI may also be used to diagnose gallstones. In some cases, a HIDA scan may be performed, which uses radioactive material to help show whether the gallbladder is functioning properly. If stones are found in the bile ducts, an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) may be necessary to remove them.

How are gallstones treated?

Gallstones are usually treated with a procedure called cholecystectomy, which involves removing the gallbladder. This can be done either laparoscopically (with small incisions and a camera) or as an open surgery (with a larger incision).

There are two main reasons why someone might choose to have their gallbladder removed: to relieve pain from gallstones or to prevent future stones from forming. In some cases, people may opt for medical therapy instead of surgery. This typically involves taking medication to dissolve the stones or breaking them up with sound waves (a process called lithotripsy).

If you’re considering gall bladder stone treatment, it’s important to talk to your doctor about all of your options and weigh the risks and benefits of each.

Can gallstones be prevented?

There are a few measures you can take to help prevent gallstones:

– Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight is a risk factor for gallstones.

– Eat a healthy diet. A diet high in fiber and low in saturated and trans fats may help prevent gallstones.

– Avoid crash diets or rapid weight loss. Losing weight too quickly can increase your risk of gallstones.

– Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps keep your digestive system working properly and may help prevent gallstones.

What complications can occur from gallstones?

There are a few complications that can occur from gallstones. If the stone becomes stuck in the bile duct, it can block the flow of bile and cause pain. This is called a biliary colic. If the stones block the pancreatic duct, it can cause inflammation in the pancreas. This is called pancreatitis and can be very painful. In some cases, the gallstones can cause an infection in theGallbladder itself, which is called cholecystitis. If left untreated, these infections can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition.


Gallstones can be painful and cause a variety of other symptoms, but there are treatment options available. If you think you may have gallstones, it’s important to see a doctor so they can diagnose and treat the problem. With proper treatment, most people with gallstones can live normal, healthy lives.

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