Gallstones don’t always show signs or cause symptoms. It’s possible to have a gallstone, or several gallstones, and not even know. If you do not experience any symptoms, there’s typically no need to treat gallstones. However, if you experience symptoms associated with gallstone complications, you should seek medical care. Talk to your primary care physician if you think you have gallstones; your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist.Most gallstones don't cause symptoms, but they may cause sudden abdominal pain that can intensify over time. Your PCP may refer you to a doctor that specializes in the digestive system (gastroenterologist). Click To Tweet
What is a gallstone?
Gallstones are hardened bits of digestive fluid, usually made up of cholesterol or bilirubin. These deposits develop in the gallbladder — a small organ on the right side of your abdomen that stores and releases bile into your small intestine. Gallstones can be very small granules, or they can grow to the size of a golf ball.
How do you know if you have gallstones?
Gallstones are most common in older adults, women, and people who are overweight.
Most gallstones do not require treatment. A silent gallstone is a gallstone that does not cause symptoms. Gallstones typically require treatment only when they cause symptoms.
Gallstones can block bile ducts, which may cause bile to build up in the gallbladder. This bile build up can cause sudden pain in the upper right abdomen, and sometimes the shoulder area on the right side of your body. This is known as a gallbladder attack, or biliary colic.
The pain from these attacks can last a few minutes or a few hours, sometimes intensifying over time. A gallbladder attack may follow big meals, and they tend to occur in the evening or during the night. Gallbladder attacks typically end once the gallstone dislodges from the bile duct.
There are a few symptoms of gallstones and gallbladder attacks to look for:
- sudden pain in the upper right abdomen, or right shoulder
- sudden pain in the center of the abdomen, or in between the shoulder blades
- nausea and vomiting
- fever or chills
- yellowing of the skin
Who treats gallstones?
You don’t typically have just one isolated gallbladder attack. Most people have multiple attacks if they have one. Talk to your primary care physician if you experience signs or symptoms of gallstones. Your doctor may refer you to a a gastroenterologist for further care.