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Quick Facts

Gallstones

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Aug 2021| Content last modified Aug 2021
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What are gallstones?

Gallstones are clumps of solid material that can form in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is the organ where your body stores bile. Bile is a digestive fluid that helps break down fats in food before it goes into your intestines.

What causes gallstones?

Gallstones are caused by certain substances collecting and forming clumps in the bile in your gallbladder.

These substances are more likely to form gallstones if your gallbladder is lazy and doesn't empty bile normally.

What are the risk factors for gallstones?

You have a higher chance of having gallstones if you:

  • Are a woman

  • Are over 65

  • Are Native American or Hispanic

  • Are obese

  • Have lost a lot of weight very quickly

  • Have family members who've had gallstones

  • Eat a diet high in fat and cholesterol

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

Most gallstones don't cause symptoms.

You may have symptoms if gallstones irritate your gallbladder or block the tube that leads from the gallbladder to the intestine. These symptoms include:

Symptoms may be worse after eating a heavy meal.

Your pain may be severe enough to send you to the hospital emergency room. But it may just go away and may or may not come back.

If the pain doesn't go away, you may have more serious problems, such as:

How can doctors tell if I have gallstones?

To find gallstones, doctors will:

How do doctors treat gallstones?

Gallstones that don't cause symptoms usually don’t need to be treated.

To treat gallstones that cause pain, doctors may do surgery to remove your gallbladder. To do the surgery, doctors usually use laparoscopy. Doctors will make a small hole in your belly and insert a rigid viewing tube (laparoscope) to see inside your body. They make one or two other holes to insert tools that are needed to cut out your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is then removed through the small hole.

Sometimes, when your condition is not an emergency and surgery would be risky, doctors may give you medicines to try to break up and slowly dissolve your gallstones. These medicines work only some of the time.

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