Gallstones are pieces of stone-like material that collect in the gallbladder. The gallbladder sits under the liver and stores a fluid called bile. Gallstones may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. A person may have one large stone, many tiny stones, or both.
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Gallbladders store fluid from the liver. The fluid is sent to the small intestine to help break down food. Gallstones may be caused by a problem with fluids from the liver such as:
Blockages in the gallbladder can also trap bile and may lead to stones.
Things that may raise the risk of gallstones are:
Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have pain in the upper right side of the belly. It may last 30 minutes to several hours. Other problems may be:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests to look for possible causes or rule out other problems. Urine tests may be also be done.
Gallstones can be seen with:
Gallstones that do not cause symptoms do not need to be treated. Stones that are causing symptoms or blockages may be treated with:
This risk of gallstones may be lowered by:
American Liver Foundation
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Liver Foundation
Demehri FR, Alam HB. Evidence-Based Management of Common Gallstone-Related Emergencies. J Intensive Care Med. 2016 Jan;31(1):3-13.
Gallstones. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/gallstones. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Gallstones. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/gallstones. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Gallstones. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Last reviewed February 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 2/9/2021