One thing I have to stress at the beginning. More than two-thirds of people with gallstones don’t have gallstone symptoms. Even doctors can’t explain how you can have gallstones for several years and not manifest any symptoms at all.
But that’s not the topic today. I would like to talk about gallstone symptoms. While some people are lucky enough not to experience symptoms (which can be a double-edged sword), others experience pain like never before.
Gallstones are stones that form in the gallbladder, an organ that gets little to no attention. The only time we think about our gallbladder is when the organ causes pain. The function of the gallbladder is to release bile via the cystic dust into the small intestine. This bile breaks down all the foods we eat (mostly fatty foods). And sometimes, small stones, or even large ones, develop inside the gallbladder.
So what are the symptoms? Let’s break them down.
The most common gallstone symptom is pain in the abdominal area. The pain can manifest in the stomach area or in the upper right part of the belly, which is just under the ribs. This is the most common type of pain related to gallstones.
The pain is sudden in the center of the upper belly, and then spreads to the shoulder blade area. When you experience pain as a symptom of gallstones, it’s hard to get comfortable. And no, contrary to popular belief, moving around will not make the pain go away.
The pain will also prevent you from taking deep and normal breaths. The pain can last between 15 minutes and 24 hours, although it usually lasts between one and five hours. If the pain begins at night, it will be difficult to sleep, and it might even wake you up. In most cases, the pain occurs after meals.
Back and shoulder pain
As mentioned, the abdominal pain can spread to the shoulder area. As a result, you’ll experience pain in your right shoulder, as the pain from the rib cage moves up. Another side effect is pain in the back, between the shoulder blades. Because your right shoulder is under enormous pain, your left shoulder is compensating, and, over time, the pain spreads.
Sometimes people with gallstones start vomiting. This is a double-edged sword. While vomiting will relieve some of the abdominal pain and pressure you’re feeling, vomiting is followed by even nastier symptoms.
Vomiting continues with nausea, fever, and even loss of appetite. All of these symptoms are related to gallstones.
Other gallstones symptoms
In extremely rare cases, gallstones can be a very serious problem. If gallstones obstruct the flow of bile, organs such as the small bowel and the pancreas suffer. The resulting symptoms include:
- Yellowing of the skin
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools
- Yellowing of the white part of the eyes
- High temperature (above 38oC/100.4oF)
- Rapid heartbeat
- Itchy skin
When you experience some of the above mentioned severe conditions, doctors classify it as “complicated gallstone disease.”
Learn to recognize the pain
One thing that you have to understand is that stomach pain is one of the most common symptoms of diseases overall. There are many other conditions that can cause similar abdominal pain, including liver problems, heartburn, stomach flu, food poisoning, and even heart attack. Diarrhea and vomiting are also side effects of flu and food poisoning.
That being said, how can you determine if the pain is caused by gallstones or by something else?
The main difference is how and for how long you feel the pain. For example, pain caused by gallstones is concentrated usually in one spot. Pain caused by other diseases is usually felt all over the stomach. Gallstones cause constant pain, not one that comes and goes. Pain that comes and goes is a symptom of some other disease.
What causes gallstones?
Last, but not least, I would like to tell you what causes gallstones, just so that you can prevent it. Gallstones develop as a result of too much cholesterol and other similar substances in the bile. Because your body cannot process them quickly, cholesterol forms crystals in the bile, and in time, they become hard stones. Even the tiniest stones can cause symptoms.
Another cause is when your bile contains too much bilirubin, a chemical that is produced when your body breaks down red blood cells. Conditions like biliary tract infections, blood disorders, and cirrhosis cause excess bilirubin. Another reason is when you just avoid going to the bathroom. If you hold it in, you bladder doesn’t empty correctly. As a result, the bile becomes very concentrated, contributing to the formation of gallstones.