Signs and Risk Factors of Gallstones

If you’re having unexplained abdominal pain, it could be traced to a number of culprits – including gallstones, which are crystalline masses in the bile ducts from cholesterol, salts and other substances. Even if you don’t think you’re a candidate for gallstones because you’re still young, it’s not something you should write off your list of suspects.

There are a number of telltale symptoms that can help your doctor separate gallstone pain from other sources of mid-body pain, so here are 12 signs to keep track of to share with your physician…

1. Pain in the Abdomen

First and foremost, the telltale signs of gallstones is pain in the abdomen that comes and goes, especially after fatty meals, notes Women’s Health magazine.

“Gallstone pain is described as an intense, dull discomfort located in the right upper quadrant of the belly,” it notes. The pain may also radiate to the back and right shoulder in some cases, it adds. This is because your gallbladder is trying to push a stone “the size of a golf ball” through an opening “the size of a straw,” says the source. On the flipside, some people may have gallstones and not even know it.

2. Yellowing of the Skin

If you have a blockage of the bile duct, the path of bile to the small intestines, then the buildup will increase the concentration of something called bilirubin in the gallbladder. This yellowish substance is what your liver usually turns into bile, explains Women’s Health.

As you might have guessed by now, this leads to a condition called jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin. “As bilirubin concentrations increase in the bloodstream, it starts to deposit in the skin, turning it yellow,” it explains. Even the whites of your eyes can take on a yellowish hue, it adds.

3. Feeling Sick or Vomiting

It’s no surprise that searing pain in your abdomen can make you feel like throwing up, and gallstone pain is no exception. It can be easy to pass off the pain as muscle cramping from exercising or another problem like heartburn, explains

However, the difference may be that the pain occurs following eating, when your gallbladder kicks into action. The source says nausea is not as common a symptom as abdominal pain, but if “there’s significant nausea or vomiting, those are signs that you should probably go to a physician, urgent care, or the emergency room.”

4. Being Feverish

Gallstones are 1-of the causes of an inflamed gallbladder, medically known as cholecystitis, according to “An episode of inflammation can last for several hours, or even a few days. Fever is not unusual,” it explains.

The source adds other reasons for an inflamed gallbladder may include excessive alcohol use, infections, or tumors that block bile ducts – although gallstones are the biggest culprit. “Suspected episodes of cholecystitis always require medical attention, particularly if you have a fever,” it adds.

5. Being Diagnosed with Pancreatitis

A problem with your pancreas may be traced back to your gallbladder, notes The source says the liver is situated next to the pancreas, which “discharges digestive enzymes into the same area of the digestive tract as bile.” The 2-ducts meet up near the intestine, meaning a problem in one can affect the other.

A gallstone may break free from the gallbladder and get lodged in the pancreatic duct, which will cause inflammation and the telltale abdominal pain, adds the source. If you have pancreatitis – which is inflammation of the pancreas – then you might also have a rapid pulse and a fever, it adds.

6. Being Obese or Dieting Too Hard

If you’ve dropped a lot of pounds quickly or you’ve reached obesity levels, then gallstones may result, according to It’s not that gallstones themselves cause you to lose weight – however, going on a crash diet that sheds pounds rapidly can put you at higher risk of developing stones.

Obesity alters the balance of cholesterol, lecithin and bile acids in the gallbladder, and carrying extra weight can make it tougher for the gallbladder to empty, setting the stage for cholesterol-rich bile to harden, it adds. Meanwhile, losing more than 3-pounds per week can also upset the balance of your gallbladder and make it tougher to empty, adds the source. Surgery to limit stomach capacity (bariatric surgery) can also lead to rapid weight loss and consequently cause gallstones, it adds.

7. Changes in Urine or Stool

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of gallstones, you may want to look at what’s coming out of your body, as unpleasant as that may be for some. says changes in the color of urine and stool is a sign of an untreated gallbladder attack.

More specifically, the source says your pee may appear “tea-like,” while your poop may appear to be “strangely light” in color. If you notice these signs and have other symptoms, seek medical attention. In fact, you may want to consult a doctor even if you don’t have other symptoms.

8. Standard Pain Meds Don’t Help

If you have chronic pain in your midsection that doesn’t go away at all from over-the-counter pain medications, then you may have further proof you’re dealing with a gallbladder problem, according to

Another indicator is that you don’t experience any relief of abdominal pain after passing gas, it adds. This is 1-of the things you should let your doctor know to help them arrive at a gallstone diagnosis more quickly.

9. Unexplained Belching

Speaking of passing gas, Harvard Medical School says that gallstones may increase your belching (burping) and overall gas – although presumably letting it out won’t do much to provide you relief.

Excess gas can sometimes be from eating foods that your body doesn’t agree with – like dairy, for example – but in the case of gallstones, you may also have a “general decrease in appetite,” notes the source.

10. Chewing the Fat

Not all foods may give you abdominal pain due to gallstones, but if you like to tuck into a juicy hamburger often, then you may notice the symptoms increasing, adds Harvard Medical School.

The school says “increased sensitivity to high fat meals” is due to the fact that fats cause the gallbladder to contract, potentially worsening the pain. Talk to your doctor or dietician about limiting fat in your diet, as a gallbladder attack is not the only reason.

11. Other Risk Factors

In many cases of gallstones, the patient won’t know anything is awry until a stone causes a blockage (and some of the symptoms we’ve mentioned already).

However, just because you’re not doubled over in pain from a gallstone, doesn’t mean you should lead a lifestyle to prevent them – and that includes being active, avoiding a high-fat and high cholesterol diet, getting enough dietary fiber, and talking to your doctor if you take medications that contain estrogen, notes the Mayo Clinic.

12. Diagnosing the Problem

If you’re experiencing some or all of the mentioned symptoms and made a call to your doctor, then that’s a good start. WebMD says they’ll proceed with a physical exam, and possibly a blood test to check for infections and rule out other causes.

Physicians may also use an ultrasound, a painless and quick procedure to see inside your body, or a CT scan, which provides detailed images of your insides. There are a number of other tests at their disposal, including a cholescintigraphy (also known as a HIDA scan) to see if your gallbladder is squeezing correctly, it adds. Surgery is a common way to eliminate gallstones, but medications can sometimes work as an alternative (but much more slowly), it adds.

Jeff Hayward

Jeff Hayward

Jeff has more than 15 years of experience writing professionally about health, travel and the arts among other subjects. He continuously looks to improve his own overall health through exercise, diet and mindfulness. He is also a proud stay-at-home dad that loves taking photographs both professionally and as a hobby.