The gallbladder is located under the liver and near the stomach. Gallstones are pieces of stone-like material that collect in the gallbladder. Gallstones are made of cholesterol salts or bilirubin salts. Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. The gallbladder can develop just one large stone, hundreds of tiny stones, or almost any combination of these.
Gallstones are caused when bile or cholesterol crystalizes into stones.
Gallstones can form under the following conditions:
People aged 60 years of older are at increased risk for gallstones. Women between 20-60 years old and those with high estrogen levels are also at increased risk. People of Native American, Mexican American, and Northern European descent are also at increased risk.
Other factors that may increase your chances of gallstones:
Certain medications can increase your risk of gallstones such as:
Many people have gallstones without symptoms, called silent gallstones. In some cases, these are treated.
Gallstones may cause pain in the upper abdomen. This is sometimes called a gallbladder attack because it begins suddenly, often after a fatty meal. The pain is severe and may last for 30 minutes or several hours.
Other symptoms include:
If you have the following symptoms, see your doctor right away:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
You may be prescribed:
American Liver Foundation
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Liver Foundation
Gallstones. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114033/Gallstones. Updated November 20, 2017. Accessed December 20, 2017.
Gallstones. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/gallstones. Updated March 2014. Accessed December 20, 2017.
Gallstones. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones. Accessed December 20, 2017.
6/18/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114033/Gallstones: Singh-Bhinder N, Kim, DH, Holly BP, et al. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria on right upper quadrant pain. Available at: https://acsearch.acr.org/docs/69413/Narrative. Updated 2013.
Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.