Gallstones – Causes, Symptoms & Complications

The fluid (digestive fluid) in the gallbladder becomes concentrated and hardened to form crystals that eventually turn into gallstones. The size of gallstone can be as small as a grain or can be as large as a gold ball. Gallstones can be one, two or many at the same time.

Symptoms associated with gallstones

Gallstones usually causes no symptoms in the beginning. However, if stones become large and alter the functioning of gallbladder and cause blockage, the following signs and symptoms may develop:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain (rapidly intensifying sudden pain in the upper right abdomen)
  • Rapidly intensifying sudden pain in the upper right part of the abdomen – below the breastbone
  • Abdominal pain may last for several minutes to a few hours
  • Back pain (especially in women) between the shoulder blades

Causes of Gallstones formation

Th exact cause of gallstones formation is unknown. However, doctors think that gallstones may be formed due to the following reasons:

  • Excess cholesterol excreted by the liver, which the bile cannot dissolve may form crystals that turn into gallstones.
  • Excess bilirubin formation by the liver may contribute to gallstone formation.
  • Biliary tract infections, liver cirrhosis and some types of blood disorders can make the liver to make excess bilirubin – which may contribute to gallstone formation.
  • Incomplete emptying of gallbladder may result in concentration of bile – which may contribute to the formation of gallstones.

What are the risk factors for gallbladder stones?

The risk of gallbladder stone formation increases in the following cases:

  • Being female
  • Quick weight loss
  • Liver disease
  • Liver disorders such as leukaemia or sickle cell anaemia
  • Diabetes
  • A family history of gallstones
  • Pregnancy
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Being age 40 or older
  • Eating high-fat diet
  • Eating a low-fibre diet
  • Eating a high-cholesterol diet
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Hormonal therapy or use of oral contraceptives

Complications Associated with Gallbladder Stones

Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis): This condition develops when a gallbladder stone blocks the neck of the gallbladder. Severe pain and fever are the possible symptoms of cholecystitis.

The blockage of pancreatic duct (it connects pancreas to the common bile duct). Pancreatic juices flow through this duct. Gallstone causes blockage of the pancreatic duct that leads to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). The most prominent sign of pancreatitis is a more intense and constant abdominal pain.

Blockage of common bile duct: It is a tube that connects the gallbladder or liver to small intestine. The blockage of this common bile duct can cause bile duct infection, jaundice and severe pain.

Gallbladder cancer: In very rare cases people with a personal history of gallbladder stones are at risk of gallbladder cancer. The risk is very rare though.


Doctors don’t recommend any treatment if gallstones are small and do not cause any signs and symptoms. However, if gallstones are many or large in size and cause signs and symptoms owing to their position in gallbladder. then gallbladder removal surgery is needed.