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Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid (bile) that can form in your gallbladder. The stones may be as small as grains of sand or as large as golf balls. Some people develop just one gallstone, while others develop many.

It’s not clear what causes gallstones to form. Some may result if the digestive fluid (bile) produced by your gallbladder contains too much cholesterol or too much bilirubin. Bilirubin is a chemical that’s produced when your body breaks down red blood cells. Gallstones may also result if your gallbladder doesn’t empty properly.

Factors that may increase your risk of gallstones include being overweight, eating a high-fat or high-cholesterol diet, pregnancy, losing weight very rapidly, having a family history of gallstones.

Some gallstones don’t cause any symptoms. If a stone lodges in a passageway (duct) and creates a blockage, symptoms may occur and include:

  • Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen
  • Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the center of your abdomen, just below your breastbone
  • Back pain between your shoulder blades
  • Pain in your right shoulder

Gallstone pain may last several minutes to a few hours.

Gallstones that don’t cause signs and symptoms typically don’t require treatment. If gallstones are causing pain or other symptoms, treatment options include:

  • Surgery to remove the gallbladder. Once your gallbladder is removed, bile flows directly from your liver into your small intestine, rather than being stored in your gallbladder. You don’t need your gallbladder to live, and its removal doesn’t affect your ability to digest food. You may experience diarrhea temporarily.
  • Medications to dissolve gallstones. It may take months or years of treatment to dissolve your gallstones in this manner, and sometimes the medications don’t work. This approach is generally reserved for people who can’t undergo surgery. 

To reduce your risk of gallstones:

  • Don’t skip meals or fast. It increases the risk of gallstones.
  • Lose weight slowly. If you need to lose weight, aim to lose 1 or 2 pounds a week. Try to maintain a healthy weight.

          Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.

Tests to consider

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