Gallstones - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment

Addressing Gallstones

Dr.Santosh D Hajare profile Authored by Dr.Santosh D Hajare on 26 Aug 2014 - 17:44.

Gallstones refers to the hardened substances (cholesterol and bile pigments) that can form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ located under the liver which stores bile and releases into the small intestine when required. The number of gallstone/s developed may vary from person to person. Some may develop a single gallstone, and others may develop multiple gallstones at the same time. The size of the gallstone may range from very fine sand to as large as a lemon or even larger than that. People above 60 yearsand particularly women are more likely to develop gall stones.

Gallstones are of two types depending on the composition of the stones formed:

  • Cholesterol gallstones: These are developed as a result of excess cholesterol in the bile and appear yellow-green in color. These are common and accounts for almost 80 percent of total incidences.
  • Pigment gallstones: These are quite uncommon and smaller in size as compared to cholesterol stones. These often occur in dark brown color due to bilirubin content.

Certain factors may make you prone to develop gallstones. These may include:

  • Genetics
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy or on birth control pills
  • Age                     
  • Being a woman
  • Taking cholesterol lowering drugs
  • Having diabetes
  • Sudden and unexpected weight loss
  • Eating food rich in fat, cholesterol, low fiber food

In most of the cases gallstones do not cause any symptoms and remain undiagnosed. These types of gallstones are referred as silent stones. However, these may be accidently diagnosed during a routine checkup or other screening tests. But in few cases, stones may block the duct and may cause several symptoms, which include:

  • Mild to severe pain in the upper abdomen (may last for a few minutes to hours).
  • Pain in the upper back between shoulders.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Burning sensation in the chest.
  • Gas problem

Most of the times, gallstones can be diagnosed while screening for other illnesses. However, in suspected cases, several tests and procedures can be used to detect and confirm the presence of gallstones. These may include:

  • Imaging studies: To obtain the clear image of the abdomen, you may have to undergo certain imaging examinations such as computerized tomography (CT) scans and ultrasound. These obtained images can be examined to find out the signs of gallstones.
  • Special dye tests: To detect the blockage in the duct caused due to gallstones. It utilizes a special dye which helps to highlight the bile duct on obtaining images through Hepatobiliaryiminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) etc.
  • Laboratory tests: These often include various blood examinations to trace out the presence of any infection, jaundice, gastritis or pancreatitis etc.

Treatment for ‘silent stones’: Those stones detected accidently and do not cause any symptoms often do not require any treatment. However, awarenesscan help to be alert about the symptoms that may occur eventually.

Treatment for symptomatic gallstones: For those who experience the symptoms, treatment approach may include certain medications or surgery to remove the gallstones.

Drugs and medications: This approach is taken for those patients who are reluctant to go for a surgery. Drugs may eventually dissolve gallstones, but it may take quite long. Sometimes, medications may not work and thus this approach is rarely preferred.

Cholecystectomy: It is a surgery performed to remove the gallbladder. This surgery enables the direct flow of bile from liver to small intestine. The surgery does not disturb any of the functions of the digestive system, but it may cause temporary diarrhea.

Moreover, gallstones detected while diagnostic procedure endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) can be removed simultaneously during the procedure.


Untreated or poorly managed gallstones may lead to several complications. These may include:

  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) causing severe pain accompanied by fever
  • Jaundice
  • Infection of the bile duct
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas due to blockage in the pancreatic duct due to gallstone)
  • Pancreatitis may require hospitalization and attention
  • Increased risk of gallbladder cancer (it’s very rare)

Implementing certain measures may help one to reduce the risk of developing the gallstones. These may include:

  • Eat a healthy and balanced food
  • Do not skip meals
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Lose weight gradually
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat food rich in fiber
  • Avoid eating fatty food rich in cholesterol
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.