Gallstones are clumps of solid material that can form in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is the organ where your body stores bile (a fluid that helps break down fats in food) before it goes into your intestines.
Usually gallstones just sit in your gallbladder and don't cause problems
Sometimes, gallstones irritate the gallbladder (called cholecystitis) or block the duct that goes from the gallbladder to the intestine and cause upper belly pain that can last for hours
Doctors use ultrasound, a test that uses sound waves to create a picture, to find gallstones
Gallstones are more common in women and older people—in the United States about 1 in 5 people over 65 have gallstones
If gallstones cause pain or other problems, doctors may remove your gallbladder
Gallstones are caused by certain substances collecting and forming clumps in the bile in your gallbladder.
These substances are more likely to form gallstones if your gallbladder is lazy and doesn't empty bile normally.
Most gallstones don't cause symptoms.
You may have symptoms if gallstones irritate your gallbladder or block the tube that leads from the gallbladder to the intestine. These symptoms include:
Symptoms may be worse after eating a heavy meal.
Your pain may be severe enough to send you to the hospital emergency room. But it may just go away and may or may not come back.
If the pain doesn't go away, you may have more serious problems, such as:
Cholecystitis or a blocked duct that needs surgery
A hole in the wall of your gallbladder
A problem with your liver, pancreas, or other organ in your belly
To find gallstones, doctors will:
Do an ultrasound of your belly area to create a picture of the gallbladder and other organs
Sometimes, do an MRI, a special test to create a more detailed picture of your organs
Do blood tests to check on your liver (liver function tests)
Gallstones that don't cause symptoms usually don’t need to be treated.
To treat gallstones that cause pain, doctors may do surgery to remove your gallbladder. To do the surgery, doctors usually use laparoscopy. Doctors will make a small hole in your belly and insert a rigid viewing tube (laparoscope) to see inside your body. They make one or two other holes to insert tools that are needed to cut out your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is then removed through the small hole
Sometimes, when your condition is not an emergency and surgery would be risky, doctors may give you medicines to try to break up and slowly dissolve your gallstones. These medicines work only some of the time.