Gallstones, pebble-like pieces of hardened digestive fluid, develop in the gallbladder. Gallstones are most likely the result of a modern diet that contains higher levels of fatty foods than our ancestors consumed. You may not be aware that you have the condition until the stones block the gallbladder or bile duct outlets, which can cause the sudden onset of significant pain.
With age, the bile in the gallbladder becomes more concentrated, and the chemical makeup of the contents of the gallbladder becomes imbalanced. The excess cholesterol buildup in the gallbladder forms stones. Factors that increase the likelihood of gallstone formation are being overweight (or having experienced rapid weight loss, such as after bariatric surgery), being over 40 or being female.
If a gallstone lodges in the neck of the gallbladder, symptoms can include sudden or significant pain in the upper right and / or centre abdomen, pain between the shoulder blades or the right shoulder, nausea, and vomiting. If gallstones travel into the bile duct and cause a blockage, symptoms can include upper abdominal pain, a yellow discolouration of the eyes and skin (jaundice), or fever.
Following a physical examination, tests usually include blood tests for signs of infection or inflammation of the gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, or liver. Your doctor will usually request an ultrasound scan to begin the process. Occasionally other scans may be appropriate.