Gallstones: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2019

Gallstones are stones that form in the bile within the gallbladder or bile ducts when substances in the bile fluid harden and form stones in the gallbladder or bile ducts. Certain conditions increase the likelihood of developing gallstones. These include female gender, obesity, increasing age, rapid weight loss, pregnancy, birth control pill or hormone therapy use, and Crohn's disease. The medical term for gallstones is cholelithiasis.

Gallstones themselves typically do not cause symptoms or signs, and people who have gallstones may not know they are present. When signs and symptoms of gallstones occur, it is largely due to the passage of gallstones pass into the bile ducts, leading to a blockage in bile flow. Symptoms associated with this condition, known as biliary colic, include severe pain in the upper-right abdomen, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Cause of gallstones

The cause of gallstones is unclear. Medical professionals speculate that gallstones may form if one's bile contains too much bilirubin or cholesterol or if the gallbladder empties improperly.


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

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/15/2019

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