Gallstones and Gallbladder Pain

What are Gallstones?

Gallstones are formed when there is an imbalance between the bile constituents. These are bile salts, lecithin and cholesterol. Did you know that some people have a tendency to form cholesterol stones and some form pigment stones?

Gallstone Symptoms

Gallstone related symptoms are typically located at the right upper abdomen. They generally manifest as pain. Other symptoms often experienced include nausea, vomiting, intolerance to certain foods (particularly high fat content), heartburn and even bloating.

Gallbladder Pain

Classically if the pain is of a short duration (less than 24 hour) and they disappear completely, they are classified as biliary colic or biliary pain. If the pain becomes continuous beyond 24 hours, it indicates that the gallbladder is now inflamed. Many patients with hindsight will note that there have been telltale symptoms before a major episode. These are often the “indigestion” or pain after heavy or oily meals typically in the evenings. The location of the pain can vary from the upper stomach, the right side (classic) to pain at the back (below and between the shoulder blades). Often these symptoms can be confused with indigestion and reflux.

Other Gallbladder Conditions


Gallbladder Polyps

As the gallbladder developed from the gastrointestinal tract (embryonic origin), it has the potential to develop polyps similar to the stomach, small bowel and the colon. As the risk of cancer is very small, true polyps of the gallbladder less than 1 cm generally do not require removal. What is important is that patients should not have any symptoms described above. If surveillance is required, serial ultrasounds are required at regular intervals to ensure that there is no change in the size and characteristics of the polyp. Sometimes, it can be difficult and confusing if there were more than 1 polyp to maintain ongoing surveillance. In some cases, the patient can elect to have this treated in a non-urgent setting.


Some of these investigations may be required prior to surgery

  • Good quality ultrasound scan
  • Blood test especially for the liver and its function
  • Other less common investigations include
    • HIDA (with CCK or stimulantion). This evaluates the function of the gallbladder
    • MRI- MRCP. This evaluates the connections of the liver and gallbladder
gallstones in the gallbladder



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