By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Gallstones are small stones that form in the gallbladder and are usually composed of cholesterol. Gallstones are very common and do not usually cause symptoms or complications. However, if the gallstone gets trapped in the gallbladder, pancreas or starts to cause gallbladder disease, then various symptoms may manifest.
The most common symptom of gallstones is sudden and severe pain in the abdomen. The pain lasts anything from a few minutes to five hours, and is not relieved by going to the toilet, being sick or passing wind.
The pain may be felt in the middle of the abdomen, in-between the belly button and breast bone or it may be felt on the right hand side radiating from just below the ribs, across the side and into the shoulder blade. This pain is referred to as biliary colic. The pain may worsen on eating fatty foods.
Less common symptoms
In some individuals, gallstones may obstruct the gallbladder for longer than a few hours and cause more serious problems. Some less common but more serious symptoms of gallstones are listed below:
- Pain that lasts longer than a few hours
- A fever (temperature higher than 38˚C)
- Increased heart rate
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes)
- Loss of appetite
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jul 11, 2014