Symptoms and Signs of Gallstones

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/22/2021

Doctor's Notes on Gallstones

Gallstones form when substances in the bile fluid harden and form stones in the gallbladder or bile ducts. Cholesterol stones and pigment stones are the most common types of gallstones. Risk factors for developing gallstones include female gender, obesity, increasing age, rapid weight losspregnancybirth control pill or hormone therapy use, and Crohn’s disease.

Gallstones themselves typically do not cause symptoms or signs. Most people who have gallstones are not aware that they have them. When signs and symptoms of gallstones occur, they almost always occur because the gallstones pass into and block the bile ducts. This leads to a condition known as biliary colic or “gallbladder attack.”

  • Symptoms of biliary colic include a severe, constant pain that may come on suddenly that is located in the middle of the upper abdomen. 
  • Nausea can be an associated symptom.
  • The pain of biliary colic lasts until the stone has passed through the bile duct into the small intestine, typically a few hours.

What Is the Treatment for Gallstones?

Treatment is usually not required for gallstones that do not cause any symptoms. If symptoms are present, treatment may include:

  • surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) or
  • medications that work to dissolve gallstones.

Medications may take a long time to work and are typically used only for people who cannot undergo surgery.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.