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What are Gallstones and What Causes Them?

Gallstones are small, hard deposits that form in the gallbladder or bile ducts. They can range in size from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball.

Most gallstones are made up of cholesterol, but they can also be made up of other substances such as calcium or bilirubin.


Types of Gallstones

There are two main types of gallstones: cholesterol stones and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones are the most common type and are typically yellow or green.

They are made up of cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in bile. Pigment stones are smaller and darker in colour, and are made up of bilirubin and other substances.


Causes of Gallstones

The exact cause of gallstones is not fully understood, but several factors can increase the risk of developing them, including:


Being female

Women are more likely to develop gallstones than men.


Being over the age of 40

The risk of developing gallstones increases with age.


Having a family history of gallstones

If a close relative has had gallstones, you may be more likely to develop them as well.


Being overweight or obese

Excess weight can increase the risk of developing gallstones.


Having certain medical conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and high cholesterol, can increase the risk of gallstones.


Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of gallstones can include:


  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, which may be sudden and severe
  • Pain in the back or right shoulder blade
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Jaundice


If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. Your doctor will likely order tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or endoscopic ultrasound to confirm the presence of gallstones and assess their size and location.


Treatment Options for Gallstones

Treatment for gallstones depends on the severity of the condition and the symptoms experienced. Some people with gallstones may not need treatment if they are not experiencing any symptoms.

Others may need to have their gallbladder removed through a procedure called a cholecystectomy. This is typically done through laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, which involves making small incisions in the abdomen and using a camera to guide the surgery.

Some medications can be used to dissolve cholesterol stones, but they are not always effective and may take several years to work.


Preventing Gallstones

To prevent gallstones, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet that is low in fat and cholesterol, and exercise regularly.

If you are at high risk for developing gallstones, your doctor may recommend taking certain medications or making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.


Possible Complications of Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease

Gallstones can cause several problems, including:

Gallbladder attacks

Gallstones can block the flow of bile from the gallbladder, causing sudden and severe pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. This pain is known as a gallbladder attack or biliary colic.


Inflammation of the gallbladder

If a gallstone becomes stuck in the neck of the gallbladder, it can cause inflammation and swelling. This condition is known as cholecystitis.


Obstruction of the bile ducts

Gallstones can also block the bile ducts, which can cause jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) and other symptoms.



If a gallstone becomes stuck in the pancreatic duct, it can cause inflammation of the pancreas, a condition called pancreatitis.


Risks of Gallstones

If left untreated, gallstones and gallbladder disease can lead to serious complications, such as:


This is a serious infection that can occur if bacteria from the gallbladder or bile ducts enter the bloodstream.


Scarring of the bile ducts

This can occur if the bile ducts become inflamed or infected, leading to scarring that can block the flow of bile.


Liver damage

If the bile ducts become blocked, it can cause damage to the liver.


In rare cases, gallstones can lead to cancer of the gallbladder or bile ducts.



To conclude, gallstones are hard deposits that form in the gallbladder or bile ducts and can cause a variety of symptoms and medical issues.

It is important to seek medical attention, especially from a gastroenterology specialist if you have symptoms of gallstones or gallbladder disease, as early treatment can help prevent serious complications.

Disclaimer Notice

The content on this website, including text, graphics, images, and information, is meant for general informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. RICHMOND ENDOSCOPY AND GASTROINTESTINAL SPECIALISTS PTE. LTD takes no responsibility if the information on this website is used without consulting one of its specialists.