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Everything one needs to know about Gallstones

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Everything one needs to know about Gallstones

Gastro Sciences | by Dr. Partha Pratim Bose | Published on 10/04/2020


Do you often experience agonizing pain in your upper abdomen escorted by symptoms like vomiting and nausea? Well, symptoms like these might indicate one of the most common but painful conditions referred to as gallstones. They are formations like pebbles that grow in the organ known as the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small organ situated beneath the liver. The stones might seem to be discreet, but these tiny stones can cause severe health problems and feelings of discomfort. 

In this blog, we are going to involve a comprehensive discussion on gallstones including their symptoms, causes, and several options for treatment. The write-up will offer information about risk factors or even if you are looking for ways to manage the pain and discomfort interlinked with this condition. 

However, kindly note that the information provided is entirely research-based and does not in any way interrupt the consultation process with a healthcare professional. 

You can book your appointment with one of the best multispeciality hospitals in Kolkata, The Calcutta Medical Research Institute. The healthcare professionals there will ensure an appropriate diagnosis of the condition and will offer treatment options that are suitable for you. 

What are Gallstones?

Gallstones are hard deposits of solid material, that appear like stones or lumps in the gallbladder – a small, pear-shaped organ located on the right side of the body, directly below the liver. The gallbladder stores bile – a green-yellowish liquid that aids the digestion process. Gallstones may go unnoticed until they block a bile duct, causing immense pain and discomfort. These can vary in size from a grain of sand to a large golf ball, and can also vary in number from person to person.

What are the types of Gallstones?

There are three main types of gallstones: 

  • Cholesterol stones: Too much cholesterol in bile can lead to the formation of green-yellow stones. These are formed when the liver produces too much cholesterol as compared to the dissolving capacity of bile. 
  • Pigment stones: Pigment stones are dark brown or black, and are formed due to the excessive presence of a chemical known as bilirubin. Bilirubin is produced by the liver naturally when it breaks down red blood cells, though conditions such as liver damage or blood disorders can lead to increased production of bilirubin than normal levels. Stones are formed when the gallbladder is unable to break down the excessive bilirubin present in the bile. 
  • Concentrated Bile: In the ordinary course of functioning, the gallbladder empties the bile to maintain health; however, when it fails to function correctly, the bile accumulates in the gallbladder and becomes excessively concentrated leading to the formation of stones. 

What are the symptoms of Gallstones?

 In many cases, gallstones may go unnoticed until they block a bile duct. Gallstones that do not cause any signs do not need to be treated. However, it is easy to understand the symptoms of gallstones.

Some of the common symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Acute and rapidly intensifying pain in the upper right abdomen
  • Acute and rapidly intensifying pain in the center of the abdomen
  • Excessive pain in the back, especially between the shoulder blades
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Foul-smelling and dark urine
  • Clay-color stool
  • Excessive and uncontrollable burping
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion

What are the causes of gallstones?

Gallstones occur when certain chemicals – such as cholesterol, calcium bilirubin, and calcium carbonate – in the gallbladder are out of proportion. A disproportion of chemicals leads to the formation of stones in the gallbladder. Typically stones are formed when there are:

  • Excessive cholesterol
  • Excessive bilirubin
  • Concentrated bile 

What are the risk factors of gallstones? 

However, the exact reason why a chemical imbalance occurs in some people and not others is not known. However, certain factors put one at more risk than others, such as:

  • Being female
  • Age 40 or more
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Pregnancy
  • An unhealthy diet comprising high-fat, high-cholesterol, low-fiber, etc.
  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disorders
  • Leukemia or other blood disorders
  • Excessive loss of weight
  • Certain medications

What are the options available for gallstone treatment?

 If gallstones do not produce any symptoms, they might not need any treatment. Many times gallstones pass on their own without any pain or problem; however, in other cases, gallstones may cause severe symptoms and excessive pain, requiring medical treatment. In most cases with symptoms, surgery is the prime choice for gallstones; and in rare cases, medications are used. Moreover, if a person is unfit for surgery, his condition may be treated by first focusing on minimizing risks and then conducting the surgery.

Here are some of the options available for gallstones treatment: 

Natural treatment and home remedies:

Some natural treatments such as lifestyle changes, healthy diet, etc. can help prevent the formation of gallstones and also reduce the intensity of symptoms. Also, some home remedies can work effectively to minimize pain and complications temporarily. Some tips for maintaining gallbladder health include:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Eating a nutrient-enriched diet
  • Eating anti-inflammatory diet
  • Engaging in regular exercise
  • Avoiding foods with high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber
  • Avoid rapid weight loss
  • Take recommended supplements for Vitamin C, iron, and lecithin 

Home remedies such as fasting and then taking olive oil with lemon juice can help flush out gallstones automatically, though this has no proven record.


The most effective and priority treatment for troubling gallstones is laparoscopic gallbladder removal surgery. The patient is placed under the influence of anesthesia. Then the surgeon makes 3-4 small incisions in the abdomen to insert a small, thin, flexible tube-like device to remove the gallbladder. After the gallbladder is removed, the bile is rerouted from the liver to the small intestine directly, leading to no chance of bile concentration or stone formation. As a result of the procedure, a person might experience loose or watery stool, which can be easily managed by consuming a diet that is low in fat so that there is a lesser release of bile. The surgery is safe, quick, and straightforward with a fast recovery period; most patients are discharged the same day from the hospital.

Non-invasive surgery:

Another minor form of surgery or a non-invasive surgery – is shock wave lithotripsy in which high-energy shock waves are used to break larger stones into small pieces, enabling them to pass on their own in some days.

Non-surgical treatments:

Non-surgical methods such as medications are considered less effective in treating gallstones since it may take years for the medicines to break the stones and also the chances of recurrence of stones are higher when treatment is stopped. Medication is also not preferred as a prime method since the forms of surgery used to treat gallstones are very effective and less risky.


In conclusion, gallstones can be easily treated if they produce troubling symptoms; however, in cases, where gallstones do not produce any symptoms, treatment may not be necessary since they can pass on their own. However, the best course of treatment is to be undertaken post-consultation with a doctor. It is essential to identify gallstone symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, etc. for immediate diagnosis and treatment. Several options are there for gallstone treatment like dietary changes, medications, surgical interventions, etc. If you observe you might be suffering from gallstones or have been diagnosed with the condition, make sure to work with your healthcare professional to identify the best course of action for you. It would be easier for you to manage gallstones and look after your health with the right understanding and medical guidance. 


Are gallstones dangerous?

No, gallstones are not determined to be dangerous if they are not causing any symptoms. However, it is vital to get in touch with a doctor if symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting are experienced. 

How to dissolve gallstones fast?

Ursodiol is used to dissolve gallstones fast, primarily for people who don’t intend to undergo surgery or cannot consider surgery due to any other reason. 

Why do gallstones form?

When there is excessive bilirubin, too much cholesterol, or too much salts, gallstones may form.