What are Gallstones?
Gallstones are hardened pieces of digestive fluid, either cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile, that can form in the gallbladder, the small, pear-shaped organ located beneath your liver on the right side of the abdomen. Gallstones can range in size, with some of them being as small as a grain of rice and others as large as a golf ball. Many people will only develop one gallstone at a time, while others may have a mixture of sizes and multiple at once.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Gallstones are very common and often display no symptoms. If a gallstone is large or lodges in a duct causing a blockage, you may notice signs such as:
- Sudden and intense pain in the upper right portion or center of your abdomen
- Pain in the right shoulder or back between the shoulder blades
- Nausea or vomiting
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Dark-colored urine
- Indigestion and burping
- Yellow eyes or skin (jaundice)
A sudden flare-up of symptoms that goes away after a few minutes or hours is possible. If the symptoms persist and are severe, be sure to visit a digestive care specialist.
Causes of Gallstones
Doctors believe gallstones form in the gallbladder when:
- Your bile has too much cholesterol - Typically, the bile in your gallbladder contains enough chemicals to dissolve the cholesterol your liver excretes. Still, if there's more cholesterol than the bile can dissolve, gallstones may form.
- Your bile has too much bilirubin - Bilirubin is a chemical produced when red blood cells are broken down. Like excessive cholesterol, too much bilirubin can cause gallstones to build up.
- Your gallbladder isn't emptying correctly - If your gallbladder is properly emptying or not emptying enough, bile can become too concentrated and form gallstones.