How to tell if you have gallstones

November 12, 2018 | by Kimberly McKinnon, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Most people with gallstones have no idea they have them.

One in 7 U.S. adults have gallstones, but only a small percentage feel any symptoms.

Gallstones are small clumps of cholesterol or bilirubin that form in your gallbladder. If they don’t block a bile duct, you may never feel them (then they’re called “silent stones”).

If they shift and block a bile duct, however, the stones could cause a build-up of bile (a substance that helps you digest fat and retain certain vitamins) that results in a painful gallbladder attack. Some have compared it to the feeling of a heart attack or appendicitis.

Gallbladder attacks are often triggered by a large, fatty meal. Seek medical treatment immediately if you have symptoms of a gallbladder attack, including sharp or deeply aching abdominal pain in the upper right side that can radiate to the back or right shoulder, nausea/vomiting, jaundice, fever and tea-colored urine.

Some risk factors for gallstones include:

  • Women
  • People over age 40
  • Mexican American or Native American ethnicity
  • Rapid weight loss (such as after weight loss surgery)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Should you worry about gallstones? You’ll likely only need medical treatment for gallstones if you have more than one gallbladder attack. The most common treatment is surgical removal of the gallbladder. Sometimes gallstones are treated with medication, but that’s usually when the patient cannot undergo surgery for medical reasons.

Taking steps toward prevention is always better than treating a preventable condition! These lifestyle habits will help prevent the formation of gallstones:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly, at least 30 minutes per day
  • Adding more fiber to your diet
  • If you have gallstones, cutting back on fatty foods may reduce the frequency of gallbladder attacks

Kimberly McKinnon is a family medicine physician with Elmhurst Memorial Medical Group. Dr. McKinnon is accepting new patients in Hinsdale! View her profile and schedule an appointment online.

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