A Quick Guide to Understanding Gallstones

January 16, 2024

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Gallstones are small, hardened deposits that primarily form in your gallbladder and occasionally in the bile ducts. Located beneath your liver, the gallbladder is the primary site for these stones, which are composed of bile, a digestive fluid produced by your liver. These gallstones vary in size, ranging from minuscule ones, just a few millimeters across, to larger ones that can exceed 4-5 cm in diameter. In some instances, you might have a single stone, while at other times, multiple stones can be present.

A visual representation of Gallstones

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What Causes Gallstones?

It’s unclear why gallstones form. Possible reasons include:- Too much bilirubin, a chemical from breaking down red blood cells (the stones look yellow)- Excess cholesterol in your bile (the stones are darker)- Incomplete emptying of the gallbladder

Risk Factors

Some things may increase your risk for gallstones, like:- Being female, over 40, or of certain ethnicities- Being a higher weight person, sedentary, or pregnant- Eating a diet high in fat and low in fiber- Rapid weight loss, diabetes, or liver disease- Taking estrogen-containing medications- Having diseases like sickle-cell anemia, leukemia, liver disease

What are the typical Symptoms?

Often, gallstones cause no trouble, but if they block a bile flow in the bile ducts or in the gallbladder, they can even cause life endangering situations.

You might feel:

  • Sudden, intense pain in the upper right or center of your abdomen
  • Pain between your shoulder blades or in your right shoulder
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Other symptoms that can indicate more complications of gallstones
  • Pain can last from a few minutes to hours. This is usually after eating fatty foods.
An intense pain in the upper right or center of your abdomen can be an indicator of Gallstones.

When to See a Doctor

Consult a doctor if you have any concerning symptoms. Seek immediate help if:

  • The pain is unbearable
  • You have a high fever with chills
  • Your skin or eyes turn yellow (jaundice)
Consulting a doctor is a must when experiencing symptoms that can show signs of Gallstones

These signs suggest serious complications.

Gallstones can lead to:

  • Inflamed gallbladder (cholecystitis), which can cause severe pain and fever
  • Common Bile duct blockage or infection (cholangitis), with severe pain, fever and jaundice
  • Pancreatic duct blockage with pancreatitis
  • Rarely, gallbladder cancer
There is a list of issues that Gallstones can lead to. Inflamed Gallbladder, Bile duct infections, Pancreatitis to mention a few.

What can you do to lower the Risk for Gallstones?

  • Include high-fiber in your diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Lose weight gradually
  • Eat regular and balanced meals
High-fiber foods in your diet is a great way to lower the risk of Gallstones


We use ultrasounds, sometimes endoscopic ultrasound or other imaging tests (like CT, MR) for diagnosis of gallstones. If they are located in the bile ducts, a method called ERCP can be used for diagnosis and also as a therapy to remove them from the ducts. Lab tests are often used for checking infection, liver function, jaundice and other complications.


Depends on your symptoms. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is a common, routine procedure, usually done laparoscopically. The indications for surgical removal are based on your symptoms, size of the stones, your other medical conditions and complications. Medications to dissolve stones are less common and work less effective and slow, they are usually reserved for patients who can not have a surgery.

Nowadays, an effective treatment for gallstones are laparoscopic surgeries that are very common routine procedures.

Remember, if you’re unsure or in pain, always seek professional advice. Your health matters!

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