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What are the symptoms of gallstones?

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Updated July 21, 2009

Photo by A.D.A.M. Photo by A.D.A.M.
Question: What are the symptoms of gallstones?
Answer: Not everyone will suffer pain when they have gallstones. Most (80%) of patients with gallstones will have no symptoms. Twenty percent of individuals with gallstones will have symptoms, most commonly severe abdominal pain. This can be called a "gallbladder attack" or biliary colic. These attacks can occur at any time.

Symptoms of gallstones can include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that rapidly worsens and can last from a few minutes to several hours
  • Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
  • Pain under the right shoulder
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Intolerance to fatty foods
  • Gas
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
Patients with a history of biliary colic are at risk of developing an infection of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) or bile ducts.

A patient with gallstones who develops any of the following symptoms should see a doctor right away:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • Clay-colored stools

Sources:

"Common Gastrointestinal Problems - Gallstones." American College of Gastroenterology. 13 Jul 2009

"Gallstones." American College of Gastroenterology. 13 Jul 2009

"Gallstones." NIH Publication No. 07–2897 July 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 13 Jul 2009

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