A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
It is possible to develop gallstones with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing gallstones. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
Gender and Age
Men older than the age of 60 and women between the ages of 20 and 60 are at increased risk of developing gallstones. Pregnant women are more likely to have gallstones with symptoms.
Genetic factors play a role in gallstone disease. There is an increased risk of gallstones among first-degree relatives like a parent or sibling.
Medical conditions associated with gallstones include:
- Being overweight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Previous history of gallstones
- IV feeding
- Diseases of the gallbladder and its ducts
Blood diseases with chronic hemolysis, such as
sickle cell anemia
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Crohn disease
- Surgical removal of the ileum (a part of the small intestine)
- Very high triglyceride levels
- Rapid weight loss
- Spinal cord injury
- Gastric bypass
- Metabolic syndromeand insulin resistance
Gallstones are common in:
- Native Americans, especially Pima Indians, who have the highest rate of gallstones in the US
- Mexican Americans
- Northern Europeans
A number of drugs are associated with gallstones. The most common are:
- Oral contraceptives
- Hormone replacement therapy—in postmenopausal women
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs—fibrates
- Thiazide diuretics
- Total parenteral nutrition
The following dietary changes increase the risk of developing gallstones:
- Rapid weight loss—causes the liver to secrete extra cholesterol into the bile
- Fasting—decreases gallbladder movement, causing bile to become overly concentrated with cholesterol
- Higher intake of trans-fatty acids
- High-dietary glycemic index or glycemic load
Gallstones. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/gallstones. Accessed September 1, 2017.
Gallstones. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114033/Gallstones. Updated July 22, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2017.
Gallstones. National Institute of Diabetes and Digesrive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones. Updated November 2013. Accessed September 1, 2017.
Portincasa P, Di Ciaula A, de Bari O, Garruti G, Palmieri VO, Wang DQ. Management of gallstones and its related complications. Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016;10(1):93-112.
Wittenburg H, Lammert F. Genetic predisposition to gallbladder stones. Semin Liver Dis. 2007;27(1):109-121.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 9/1/2017