Gallstones form when liquid stored in the gallbladder hardens into pieces of stone-like material. They can be smaller than a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Most gallstones do not cause problems. However, if they block a duct, they usually need treatment.

Quick Facts


  • Most people who have gallstones do not have symptoms.
  • Symptoms of gallstones are often called a gallstone “attack” because they occur suddenly. A typical attack can cause:
    • Steady, severe pain in the upper abdomen that increases rapidly and last from 30 minutes to several hours.
    • Pain in the back between the shoulder blades.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Gallstone attacks often follow fatty meals, and they may occur during the night. Other gallstone symptoms include:
    • Abdominal bloating
    • Recurring intolerance of fatty foods
    • Colic
    • Belching
    • Gas
    • Indigestion

Common Causes:

  • Gallstones form when cholesterol and other things found in bile make stones. They can also form if the gallbladder does not empty as it should.
  • Obesity
  • Excess estrogen
  • Ethnicity, gender, age
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Diabetes
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Fasting 


  • Medical history review and review of symptoms
  • Physical examination
  • Ultrasound of the belly
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (RRCP)
  • Blood tests

Common Treatments:

  • Surgery
  • Oral dissolution therapy
  • Contact dissolution therapy
  • ESWL – Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy

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