Nearly 1 million Americans are diagnosed with gallstones each year. Fortunately, only about a quarter of these people require treatment. People who experience symptoms from gallstones usually require gallbladder removal through surgery. Your physician will most likely recommend not treating your gallstones if you are not experiencing any symptoms.
Your gallbladder is located on the right side of your abdomen just below your liver. The purpose of the gallbladder is to hold bile that is released into the small intestine. Gallstones form in the gallbladder when hardened deposits of digestive fluid form. Gallstones may not cause any symptoms. Many times you will experience gallstone pain if a gallstone lodges in a duct and causes a blockage. Gallstone symptoms include: sudden and intense pain in the upper right side of your abdomen; pain between your shoulder blades; pain in your right shoulder; high fever with chills; and yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice). Pain caused from gallstones can last several minutes to hours.
All of the causes of gallstones are not known. Some doctors speculate that gallstones occur when your bile contains too much cholesterol or bilirubin, or your gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly. Factors that may put you at risk for developing gallstones include:
• Being female
• Being over 60 years old
• Being an American Indian
• Being a Mexican-American
• Being overweight or obese
• Eating a high-fat diet
• Eating a high-cholesterol diet
• Eating a low-fiber diet
• Having a family history of gallstones
• Having diabetes
• Losing weight very quickly
• Taking some cholesterol-lowering medications
• Taking medications that contain estrogen