Gallstones: What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

April 7, 2022
3 min read
Gallstones: What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Your gallbladder is a small organ located on the right side of your abdomen and just below your liver. This organ is responsible for holding and releasing bile, a digestive fluid that’s released into your small intestine. 

Gallstones are hardened digestive fluids that may build up in your gallbladder. They range from small, like a grain of sand, to large, like the size of a golf ball. You can have one gallstone or many gallstones at the same time. If you are experiencing any symptoms from gallstones, you may require gallbladder removal surgery. 

Not all gallstones will cause signs or symptoms. If they don’t, there is usually no treatment required.   

What Are the Symptoms of Gallstones?

Symptoms for gallstones are typically related to these stones blocking your bile ducts. The bile then builds up in the gallbladder, leading to a gallbladder attack, also known as biliary colic. Bile fluid buildup increases pressure in the gallbladder, which can sometimes lead to a rupture. 

Symptoms of a gallbladder attack include:

  • Abdominal pain: located in the upper right side or middle of the abdomen
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Pain after meals
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Yellowing of the whites of your eyes
  • Yellowing of the skin

The pain associated with a gallbladder attack starts suddenly. The pain can be a dull ache, sharp pain, or cramping. It will remain steady and can spread to the back—below the right shoulder blade. If you have gallbladder stones, it is common to have steady pain after meals. It is also possible to experience inflammation of the gallbladder due to gallstones; this is known as cholecystitis. 

Symptoms of cholecystitis:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Yellowing of the whites of your eyes
  • Yellowing of your skin

How Are Gallstones Diagnosed?

There are a number of tests available to diagnose gallstones, including the following.

  • Lab tests: A sample of blood is taken and sent to a lab. The blood test can identify signs of inflammation or infection of the gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, and/or liver.
  • Imaging tests: These are pictures taken of the areas of concern. The tests are performed by a technician at your doctor’s office, outpatient center, or a hospital. The radiologist reviews the images and sends the images and a report to your doctor.
  • Ultrasound: This imaging test is best for finding gallstones. It uses a transducer to bounce sound waves off your organs. These waves create a picture of their structure, and can spot gallstones within the gallbladder.
  • CT scan: CT (computed tomography) scans use a combination of x-rays and computer technology to create pictures of the pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts. They can show gallstones in the gallbladder. They also show any complications like infections or blockage in the gallbladder or bile ducts. 
  • MRI: MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines use magnets combined with radio waves to create a detailed image of your organs. They are able to show gallstones in the ducts of the biliary tract.
  • Cholescintigraphy: A safe radioactive material is injected into a vein in your arm. A special camera is used to produce images of your biliary tract with the help of the radioactive material. This procedure is used to see abnormal contractions of the gallbladder or to view any blockages in the bile ducts.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): Uses a combination of the upper gastroendoscopy and x-rays to view the bile and pancreatic ducts. This set of tests can identify gallstones. However, due to its invasiveness, it is usually only used before gallstone removal.       

BASS Medical Group

At BASS Medical Group, we have state-of-the-art medical services on-site. Our highly trained professionals are here to make your experiences as comfortable as possible while addressing your medical needs. If you’re experiencing symptoms of gallstones, call us to schedule an appointment today.