Gallstone is a common medical condition which affects the adults. It may or may not cause symptoms. According to estimates about eight in 10 people with gallstones have no symptoms and hence are not aware that they have gallstones. Severity of symptoms in cases with symptomatic gallstones can vary from mild to severe. Gallstones that don't cause any symptoms or illness are termed "silent" stones. They are most often diagnosed accidentally when the person is being evaluated for some other medical condition or during a routine health check-up.
Gallstones cause symptoms in case of:
- Cholecystitis: In some cases the gallstones can partially block the flow of bile out of the gallbladder. The bile that accumulates in the gallbladder becomes concentrated. The concentrated bile is an irritant that irritates the gall bladder walls and causes inflammation. This condition is known as cholecystitis.
- Biliary colic: If the gallstone gets caught in ducts that carry bile from the liver to the small intestine it can lead to sudden severe pain called biliary colic.
Sites where the gallstone can get stuck include:
- Hepatic ducts—the duct which transports bile out of the liver.
- Cystic duct—the duct carries bile to and from the gallbladder.
- Common bile duct—the duct that collects bile from the cystic and hepatic ducts and carries it to the small intestine.
- Pancreatic duct –the duct that carries digestive enzymes from the pancreas to the intestine.
Symptoms of Gallstones
A common and dramatic presentation of gallstone disease is biliary colic (a condition in which the gallstone blocks one of the bile ducts). It causes sudden and intense pain in the abdomen that can last from 30 minutes to several hours (in some cases it may last just a few minutes).
Pain in a typical attack may be felt in the:
- middle of abdomen (i.e. below the breastbone and above the navel) or
- upper right side of abdomen.
- back between the shoulder blades
Biliary colic attack usually starts after eating a heavy fatty meal, and may occur during the night. It is usually not relieved by going to the toilet or after passing wind.
Other symptoms which may be associated with pain in biliary colic are:
- feeling unwell
- nausea and vomiting
- bloating sensation in the abdomen
- passing excessive gas and belching
- profuse sweating.
These symptoms can occur in several other medical conditions including a heart attack. So if you have one or more of these symptoms consult your doctor.
In less dramatic presentation of gallstone disease the person may have repeated episodes of abdominal pain, indigestion, feeling unwell, nausea and vomiting, bloating sensation of the abdomen and passing excessive gas and belching. Some people can develop
- Jaundice, (yellowish discoloration of skin or whites of the eyes)
- Clay-colored stools
- Chills, sweating, and fever (in case the gallbladder gets infected)