The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ in the upper right side of the abdomen, just below the liver. It’s a pouch that contains digestive juice called bile which helps with digestion. Gallstones are formed when there’s an excess accumulation of cholesterol in the bile.

Gallbladder stores and releases bile, which is synthesized in the liver and it helps with the normal digestion process. Bile also transports waste materials like cholesterol and bilirubin which the system makes when it breaks down red blood cells. These substances can also form gallstones if not properly excreted.


It varies in size from as small as a grain of sand to a large one as a golf ball. Some person may have one gallstone, while others may develop many gallstones at the same time. You may not know that you have gallstones unless they block a bile duct, resulting in intense pain which needs prompt treatment.


Gallstones lead to pain in the upper right abdomen, back and shoulder. A person may experience pain on and off when they consume foods rich in fat and deep-fried foods. Generally, pain does not last for more than a few hours. Some of the other symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colour stools
  • Abdomen pain
  • Burping
  • Diarrhoea
  • Indigestion


It was reported that almost 80 % of gallstones are made up of cholesterol, while the rest 20% comprises calcium salts and bilirubin. The exact causes of gallstones formation are not known, however, it is believed to be caused due to:

Excess Cholesterol In Bile

High levels of cholesterol in the bile can result in the formation of yellow cholesterol stones. These hard stones develop if the liver secretes more cholesterol than bile can dissolve.

Excess Bilirubin In Bile

Bilirubin is a chemical synthesised by the liver which destroys red blood cells. Health conditions like liver damage and blood disorders cause the liver to produce more bilirubin than the normal amount. Pigment gallstones develop when the gallbladder can’t break down accumulated bilirubin.

Concentrated Bile

Gallbladder needs to empty bile regularly to function effectively. If this function fails, the bile becomes concentrated leading to gallstones formation.

Asymptomatic Gallstones

Gallstones in most cases don’t cause pain. Noticeably, pain develops when the gallstones block the movement of bile from the gallbladder. Reports reveal that almost 80% of people have silent gallstones and doctors only diagnose it during the procedure like X-rays or gastrointestinal surgery. Also Read: Gall Bladder Cancer – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


Acute cholecystitis

It is a condition when a gallstone blocks the duct where bile travels from the gallbladder, it can lead to infection. This is condition is known as acute cholecystitis and it is a medical emergency.

Symptoms observed with acute cholescystitis include:

  • Extreme pain in the upper abdomen or back
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Seek immediate medical care if symptoms last for more than 1-2 hours or if you develop fever.

If gallstones are left untreated it may increase the risk of:

  • Jaundice
  • Cholecystitis
  • Bile duct infection
  • Sepsis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallbladder cancer

Diagnosis And Treatment

The doctor will generally do a complete physical assessment which includes examining eyes, and skin for colour changes. A yellowish tint may be an indication of jaundice caused due to the build-up of bilirubin. Also Read: Gallstones: Get Treated Before It’s Too Late

Some of the diagnostic tests recommended by the doctor include:

Ultrasound of the abdomen produces an image that can confirm gallstone diseases.

Abdominal CT scan takes pictures of the liver and abdominal region.

A gallbladder radionuclide scan is an important test where a specialist injects a radioactive substance into veins. The dye travels through the blood to the liver and gallbladder. The scan reveals blockage of bile ducts due to stones.

Certain blood works are also suggested to measure the amount of bilirubin in the blood and functioning of the liver.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): ERCP is a procedure that uses a camera to look for issues in the bile and pancreatic ducts. The doctor can observe if any gallstones glued in the bile duct.


In most cases, a person usually doesn’t require treatment until it causes pain. In certain cases, gallstones pass out without even knowing. If the patient suffers from intense pain then the doctor will recommend surgery.


If you are diagnosed with gallstones and have no symptoms then adapting certain lifestyle modifications can help which include:

  • Maintain an ideal body weight
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Stay active and get regular workouts
  • Avoid eating highly processed, deep-fried and fatty foods

Furthermore, doctors may also recommend certain nutritional supplements like vitamin C, iron and lecithin which are known to decrease the risk of developing gallstones.