Gallstones are hard pieces that form in the gallbladder. They can be tiny or as big as a golf ball. Some people get one stone, others get more. If a stone blocks a duct, pain in the upper right abdomen can start suddenly. The pain might also be felt in the middle of the chest, the back between the shoulder blades, or in the right shoulder. This pain can be joined by nausea or vomiting and it can last from minutes to several hours.

The gallbladder sits under the liver on the right side of your belly. It stores bile, a fluid that helps digest food. Gallstones sometimes don’t show any signs. But, if a stone blocks something, serious issues can happen.

Overview of Gallstones

Gallstones are a usual problem, affecting millions across the world. They are hard pieces of digestive fluid. They form in the gallbladder, below the liver. Gallstones can be as tiny as sand grains or as big as golf balls.

Some people get one stone, while others might have many. The size is not the same for everyone.

Formation and Composition of Gallstones

Gallstones are made when bile, a liver fluid, is out of balance. This can make cholesterol or bilirubin turn into stones. The two main kinds are cholesterol gallstones and pigment gallstones.

Cholesterol gallstones, yellow in color, are the most common. Pigment stones, dark brown or black, happen when there is too much bilirubin.

Types of Gallstones

About 80% of gallstones are cholesterol stones. They come in different sizes and shapes. The other type, pigment stones, are less seen. They develop from excess bilirubin.

Prevalence of Gallstones

In the U.S., about 20 million adults have gallstones. This problem gets more common with age. Being female, overweight, or having family with gallstones can raise your risk.

Common Symptoms of Gallstones

Gallstones bring several unpleasant symptoms. One major sign is a sudden, sharp pain in your upper right belly. This pain can sometimes be felt in the middle of the stomach too. Along with this pain, you might feel back pain and aching in your right shoulder.

Abdominal Pain

The pain from gallstones is often a dull ache that gets worse quickly. It can come and go or last for hours. This pain usually spikes after eating fatty or big meals, especially in the evening.

Nausea and Vomiting

Gallstones can also make you feel sick. Your body might react with nausea and vomiting when digesting fatty foods. This happens because gallstones block the bile flow.

Back Pain

Back pain, especially between the shoulder blades, is common with gallstones. The gallbladder’s nerve pain can spread to the back. This type of pain is more likely in women and can be felt in other areas too, like the arm and chest.


Severe Symptoms Requiring Medical Attention

Some people with gallstones might not feel many symptoms. But, there are severe signs that need quick medical help. These can show big problems like blocked bile duct or inflammation, which are very dangerous if untreated.

Intense Abdominal Pain

Severe abdominal pain is a big sign of gallstones. It’s so bad, the person can’t stop moving due to the pain. This pain usually appears quickly in the upper right or center part of the stomach. It might mean a gallbladder attack or worse issues that need fast medical aid.


If the skin and eyes turn yellow, it could be jaundice. This happens when a gallstone stops the bile flowing. The body builds up bilirubin, making the skin and eyes yellow.

High Fever and Chills

Having a fever and chills could point to a bad gallstone infection. This might be cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation) or cholangitis (bile duct inflammation). Getting these signs means you need to see a doctor right away to avoid a life-threatening situation.

If any of these severe symptoms show with your gallstones, get medical help immediately. Quick treatment can stop dangerous problems and help your gallstone issue be managed well.

what are symptoms of gallstones

The most common symptom of gallstones is a sudden, intense pain in the upper right abdomen. You might also feel it below the breastbone. This pain can be really bad and last from a few minutes to hours. It usually happens after eating, especially at night.

Other signs are back pain between your shoulder blades, pain in the right shoulder, and feeling sick. The stones can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. The size and where the stone is can cause different symptoms.

Sudden, Severe Abdominal PainPain in the upper right portion of the abdomen that can also radiate to the center of the abdomen, back, or right shoulder.
Nausea and VomitingGallstone pain can often be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, especially after heavy or fatty meals.
Fever and ChillsSevere complications like gallbladder inflammation or blocked bile ducts can lead to fever and chills.
JaundiceBlockage of the bile ducts can cause a yellow tint to the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).
Digestive IssuesGallstones can contribute to digestive problems like indigestion, heartburn, gas, and changes in bowel habits.

It’s important to know the signs of gallstones, like sudden severe pain and feeling sick. If you have these symptoms, gallstones medical treatment is essential to manage the condition. Quick attention and the right treatment can reduce symptoms and avoid problems.

Silent Gallstones

Most people with gallstones have no symptoms. These are called “silent gallstones” because they don’t cause problems. They don’t need treatment since they don’t affect your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas.

If a gallstone blocks a bile duct, it’s serious. This can cause a gallbladder attack. These attacks have severe symptoms and need quick medical help.

Sometimes, gallstones are found by accident during other tests. These are also called “silent gallstones”. It’s common for them not to show any signs.

Even though they might not need treatment, watching them is important. If you notice any symptoms, like pain, see a doctor. A blocked bile duct can cause big problems.

Causes of Gallstone Formation

Gallstones can form for many reasons. They’re often caused by an imbalance in bile components or gallbladder problems. To fight gallstone development, it’s key to grasp these causes.

Imbalance of Bile Components

Gallstones form when bile parts are out of whack. Bile is made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Too much cholesterol or bilirubin, or too few bile salts, leads to stones. This bile imbalance is the main gallstones trigger.

Gallbladder Dysfunction

Gallbladder problems play a big part in gallstone formation causes. If the gallbladder doesn’t push out bile well, bile can get too thick. This leads to gallstones. Stale bile can solidify into stones.

gallbladder dysfunction

Problems with bile and the gallbladder are the top reasons for gallstone formation. It’s vital to tackle these issue to avoid and handle gallstones.

Risk Factors for Gallstones

Gallstones can form for many reasons. Some people are more likely to get them. It’s important to know the risk factors. This helps identify those at higher risk and helps prevent them.

Age and Gender

The risk of getting gallstones goes up with age, especially after 40. Women are more affected than men. This is because of female hormones and pregnancy.


In the U.S., Native Americans and Hispanic Mexicans get gallstones more. It might be because they produce more cholesterol in their bile, due to their genes.

Obesity and Dietary Factors

Obesity, especially in women, is a big risk for gallstones. Eating too much fat and not enough fiber can also cause them. So can losing weight too quickly or fasting.


The body changes during pregnancy. This can lead to more cholesterol in the bile and slower movement in the gallbladder. It can cause cholesterol stones to form.

Medical Conditions

Some health issues can make gallstones more likely. These include diabetes, certain blood diseases, and liver problems. Some drugs that lower cholesterol or contain estrogen can also up the risk.

Knowing these gallstone risk factors can help people lower their risk. They should keep a healthy weight and eat well. It’s also important to get treated for any health problems.

Diagnosing Gallstones

Doctors use many tests to find gallstones. They start with blood tests. These tests look for infections or blockages. They also rule out other reasons for the symptoms.

Blood Tests

Blood tests play a big role in finding gallstones. They can show if there’s an infection or jaundice. When doctors check the blood, they learn a lot. This helps them know the best treatment steps.

Imaging Tests

After blood tests, doctors may do imaging tests. The usual one is an abdominal ultrasound. This test looks for stones in the gallbladder and ducts.

Doctors might also use a CT scan or other tests. These tests can find smaller stones. They can see if there are any other issues too.

Imaging tests for gallstones

By putting together blood and imaging results, doctors get a clear picture. They can tell if there are gallstones and where they are. This helps choose the right treatment.

Treatment Options for Gallstones

If you have bad gallstone symptoms, your doctor will pick the best treatment for you. There are two main treatments: taking out the gallbladder with surgery, or trying non-surgical ways.

Surgical Removal of Gallbladder

The most common fix for big or often gallstones is surgery. Doctors do a cholecystectomy, where they take out the gallbladder. They usually do this with tiny cuts and a camera to see inside. Sometimes, they may have to use a bigger cut. Getting rid of the gallbladder stops future attacks and problems.

Non-Surgical Treatments

If surgery isn’t an option, or for cholesterol stones, there are other ways. You could use medicine to dissolve the stones or have a procedure to take them out. Shock waves might also break the stones. The best non-surgical choice depends on your health and the stones’ size.

Deciding your gallstone treatment is something you and your doctor will talk over. They’ll look at your health, the type of stones, and how bad you feel. It’s key to check up on your gallstones and act fast to avoid trouble.


In summary, gallstones are very common and can make you feel sick. They show up in different ways, from not causing any symptoms to big problems. These issues include a sudden hard belly pain, feeling like you need to throw up, and back pain. If your skin turns yellow or you have a high fever, get help right away.

Gallstones happen when something is wrong with your bile or gallbladder. Things like age, being female, being too heavy, and certain illnesses make you more likely to get them. Doctors use blood and imaging tests to find out if you have them. You might need surgery or other treatments. It’s important to know the signs and reasons for gallstones to get the right care.


What are the common symptoms of gallstones?

The main signs of gallstones are sudden, strong stomach pain in the upper right part. You may feel this in the center of your stomach, below the breastbone. Other signs are back pain by the shoulder blades, right shoulder pain, and feeling sick or throwing up.

What are the severe symptoms of gallstones that require immediate medical attention?

More serious symptoms include unbearable bellyache, yellow skin and eyes, or high fever with chills. These can show a major issue like blockage, gallbladder swelling, or pancreas trouble, which need quick care.

What causes gallstones to form?

Gallstones form when bile has too much cholesterol or bilirubin. If the gallbladder doesn’t empty bile well, the bile can get thick. This makes it easier for stones to form.

What are the risk factors for developing gallstones?

Being a woman or over 40, having Native American or Hispanic roots, and being obese raise the risk of stones. So does living a slow life, pregnancy, and eating lots of fat or cholesterol. Health issues like diabetes, blood problems, or liver trouble also play a part. Losing weight fast or taking certain hormones can make it more likely to get gallstones.

How are gallstones diagnosed?

To find gallstones, doctors do blood tests to check for problems. They also use images from tests like ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRCPs. These show if a person has stones and where they are.

What are the treatment options for gallstones?

The usual fix is surgery to take the gallbladder out, often by a small cut. If surgery is not an option, other methods might work. This can be medicine, endoscopic procedures, or using shock waves to break the stones.

What are “silent gallstones”?

Gallstones without symptoms are “silent.” They do not always need treatment. But, if one blocks a duct, it can cause extreme pain and needs quick medical help.

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