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The Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Stones

The Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Stones

Filipinos know gallbladder stones or gallstones as “bato sa apdo.” When a person experiences the signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones, they must go to the doctor to have it treated. On the other hand, if they are asymptomatic, removing the stones may not be necessary.

What is the Gallbladder?

Before we discuss the signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones, we must first know the function of the gallbladder.

The “apdo” or the gallbladder is a hollow, pear-shaped organ on the right side of our abdomen. Internally, you can find it under the liver. It functions as a storage for bile, which is a digestive fluid produced by the liver. Bile helps us digest food primarily because it breaks down fats into smaller fatty acids.

Gallstones: An Overview

At this point, you must be wondering: what are gallbladder stones and how do they develop?

First, gallstones are stone-like objects found either in the gallbladder or in the bile ducts – a network of pipes in the liver. These stone-like objects are made up of hardened substances, commonly cholesterol or bilirubin. To explain further, let’s differentiate the two:

  • Cholesterol stones. They are often yellow-greenish in color. Cholesterol is a waxy substance made up of fats that are commonly found in the blood and body cells. Gallstones made with cholesterol are more common than pigment stones.
  • Bilirubin stones. Also called pigment stones, bilirubin stones are made from the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver. Aside from turning into stones, too much bilirubin can also leak into the bloodstream. When this happens, a person may develop jaundice or the yellowing of the eyes and skin.

Causes of Gallstone Formation

The signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones might depend on what caused it. The common cause of gallstone formation includes:

  • A lazy gallbladder. Sometimes the gallbladder doesn’t empty itself, triggering the development of stones.
  • Liver diseases; one example is liver cirrhosis
  • Blood disorders, like leukemia or sickle cell anemia
  • Rapid loss of weight
  • There is a high level of bilirubin and cholesterol in the bile

Before we proceed to the discussion about the signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones, please take note of the following points about the gallstone size:

  1. Gallstones vary in size. Some can be as small as grains of sand, while others are as huge as golf balls. The gallbladder may have one huge stone or a hundred small ones. At times, there is a mixture of big and small stones.
  2. The smaller stones are often more dangerous. Bigger stones that sit quietly in the gallbladder often do not cause symptoms. However, smaller stones can move out of the gallbladder and get stuck on the bile ducts, causing more harm. If the smaller stones block the common bile duct, it can cause an infection called cholangitis. Additionally, it can also result in pancreatitis or the inflammation of the pancreas.

The Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Stones

A lot of people may have gallstones and not be bothered by them. However, if the stones cause blockage in the bile ducts, you may be symptomatic. The following are the most common signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones.

Gallbladder Attack

Among the signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones, gallbladder attack is perhaps the most common. In simpler terms, a gallbladder attack is a pain in the gallbladder. You can feel it in the upper abdomen, either in the right upper side or the mid-upper side. You can describe the pain as “sudden and intensifying.”

The gallbladder attack may last from 15 minutes to several hours. Commonly, it’ll disappear in a period of 1 to 3 hours. Although the attacks are painful and quite long-lasting, there’s no need to panic. The pain itself is not considered a medical emergency.

Pain in Other Locations

Aside from the abdominal pain, a person who has gallstones may also experience pain on other parts of their body, including:

  • Chest
  • Right shoulder
  • Between the shoulder blades

Other Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Stones

Pain associated with gallbladder stones may be accompanied by:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Fever
  • Light-colored stool
  • Indigestion

Risk Factors in Developing Gallstones

To identify if you really have the signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones, it would help to know the risk factors. You would know that you’re at risk if you:

  • Are a smoker
  • Drink heavily
  • Have diabetes
  • Have high levels of cholesterol in the blood
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Frequently eats foods that are high in fat and low in fiber
  • Have a family history of gallstones
  • Are taking a lot of medications
  • Are pregnant

Prevention

Now that you are familiar with the common signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones, it’s time to think about prevention. You can do the following to lower your risk of developing gallstones:

  • Aim to lose weight slowly. Since being overweight and obese may predispose you to have gallstones, work on maintaining a healthy weight. However, because rapid weight loss can trigger the development of gallstones, be sure to lose weight gradually. The recommended weight loss is 0.5 to 1 kg per week.
  • Eat on time. Skipping meals increases the risk of having gallstones.
  • Take care of your diet. Eating foods that are high in fiber will help lower the risk of developing gallstones. You can eat more fish, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Avoiding fried foods and eating less meat might also help.
  • Snack on nuts. Some studies concluded that eating peanuts and cashews can lower the risk of gallstone formation. Still, be careful since nuts often have a lot of calories.

When to See a Doctor

The general rule is when you develop the signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones, you must consult your doctor. This is especially true if your gallbladder attack is accompanied by:

  • High fever, especially when it’s accompanied by chills
  • Tea-colored urine

Once you are in the doctor’s office, they will perform some tests to ascertain what the best course of action is. Although surgery may be recommended, there are other ways to remove the stones without an operation.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of gallbladder stones will help you determine if you require medical help.

Remember: if you feel the signs, you must go to the doctor. Since some other health conditions may mimic the symptoms, it would help to cross-check your signs with the risk factors.

Learn more about Gallbladder disease here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Picture of the author
Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Updated Jun 19, 2020
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