What Causes Gallstones?

Author: Lindsey Ulrich

"Gallstones don't always require surgery, but people with persistent symptoms should be aware of complications associated with more serious issues."


Your gallbladder is a small organ below your liver that stores bile, a green-yellow liquid that helps your digestive system. When something is blocking the bile duct, such as a gallstone, pain can occur.

 Gallstones are formed when substances in the bile, like cholesterol, harden. Gallstones can be unnoticeable or asymptomatic. However, if these stones become stuck in a duct, you may experience what is called a gallbladder attack.

“Someone who is having a gallbladder attack may experience sharp pain in their upper right or center abdomen or [the pain] may travel to their back and turn into a dull pain,” said Nicholas St. Hilaire, DO,  general surgeon at McLaren Greater Lansing. “Although causes and symptoms vary, eating fatty foods can often make these symptoms arise.”

Other symptoms of a gallbladder attack include:

  • Tenderness in your abdomen when touched
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Yellow-ish color to your skin or white of your eyes
  • Nausea, belching, or vomiting
  • Fever or chills

Changing your diet to one that is low in saturated fats, sugar, and carbs and high in fiber and calcium to help reduce bile concentration. Obesity is also a top predictor for gallstones, so maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can help reduce cholesterol that can lead to the formation of gallstones. If symptoms worsen, surgery may be required for removal of the gallbladder.

“Gallstones don’t always require surgery, but people with persistent symptoms should be aware of complications associated with more serious issues, so it is important to discuss with your primary care physician or surgeon to determine if surgery would be beneficial,” said Dr. St.Hilaire. “Complications such as acute cholecystitis, pancreatitis, or cholangitis (due to inflammation in the gallbladder, pancreas, or liver) are among the risks with symptomatic gallstones.”

Because the gallbladder is not an essential organ, you can typically live a healthy life without it. A minimally invasive procedure, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, is a common surgery used for the removal of the gallbladder, and you can usually go home on the day of the procedure.

If you have high cholesterol, have a family history of gallbladder disease, and/or are experiencing symptoms associated to gallstones, talk with your doctor about possible treatment plans.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. St.Hilaire, click here.

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