Gallstones: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment


You know that eating the right foods has a plethora of benefits — including preventing complications with your heart and weight. That’s because foods that are high in cholesterol can build up within your body and block arteries or form solid particles within your gallbladder. These solid particles become known as gallstones, and they can cause several unwelcome symptoms. What are those symptoms, and is eating healthier foods the only way to prevent them from forming?

Gallstones — what causes them?

When bile forms solid particles within the gallbladder, it’s known as gallstones. These stones form when the amount of cholesterol and bilirubin in the bile is high, but other substances within the bile can also promote the formation of gallstones. As the particles become solid, they can create a blockage within the gallbladder and lead to inflammation and — if left untreated — infection.

People with specific conditions — such as liver or blood disease — have a higher chance of bilirubin within the bile. As a result, they have a higher risk of gallstones. People with poor muscle tone also fail to empty their gallbladder completely, causing residual bile to form into gallstones.

Other people who have higher chances of forming gallstones include:

  • Females
  • People who are overweight
  • People who experienced rapid weight loss
  • People taking certain medications — including birth control pills or cholesterol-lowering drugs

Gallstones Signs and Symptoms

Not everyone experiences symptoms of gallstones, and sometimes you’ll only discover them when your doctor conducts a routine exam. In the case of demonstrating signs or symptoms, you may experience:

  • Pain in your upper abdomen
  • Back pain in between your shoulder blades
  • Pain in your right shoulder
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Digestive problems — including bloating, indigestion, heartburn, and gas

Should you see a doctor for gallstones?

If you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms, you can make an appointment with your doctor to diagnose the issue — whether it be gallstones or something else. In some cases, you may need to get immediate care. These instances include when you’re experiencing:

  • Abdominal pain so intense that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes — also known as jaundice
  • High fever with chills

Diagnosing Gallstones

If your doctor thinks you have gallstones, they’ll perform a physical exam. Your physical exam may include a urine test, which is done to rule out kidney infections. If needed, other tests may be conducted, including:

Gallstones Prevention Through Diet

When it comes to preventing the development of gallstones, your diet plays a pivotal role. A diet heavy in fiber-riched foods — such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — can help reduce your risk. But, the type of foods in your diet isn’t the only factor. You can also reduce your risk of gallstones by:

  • Not skipping meals
  • Losing weight slowly — about one or two pounds a week
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Gallstones Treatment Through Surgery

In most cases, surgery will be required to remove the solid stones within your gallbladder. One solution is extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy (ESWL). ESWL is a device that creates shock waves to break gallstones into tiny pieces. This allows the tiny pieces of stones to pass through your biliary system without causing a blockage. The downside to this procedure is many people will experience intense pain in the right upper part of their abdomen after treatment.

Another common surgery is to remove the gallbladder and the stones altogether. Your doctor will determine if this is the best route for your situation. This type of surgery helps to prevent future episodes — along with the more dangerous complications of inflammation and infection. If you’re already experiencing inflammation of the pancreas or infection of the gallbladder, you’ll have to receive IV fluids and IV antibiotics before surgery can take place.

If you have gallstones, let us help you.

At Pinnacle Research, we specialize in the exploration of disease. We work with over 70 referring physicians in San Antonio and Austin, providing clinical trials in liver disease.

Contact us to discuss how we can help you.