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Gallstones are pieces of solid matter that form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores bile, which helps your body digest food. Gallstones form when parts of the bile turn into crystals. There are two types of gallstones: pigment and cholesterol. Most people have cholesterol gallstones. They sometimes form as lots of small stones. Or, they may form as one big stone. A lot of times, gallstones don't cause any symptoms. When they do, some common symptoms include:
- A really bad pain in the upper stomach area or right side, which may last for hours
- Pain in the right shoulder or between your shoulder blades
- Nausea or throwing up
- Indigestion (upset stomach) or stomach bloating after a fatty meal
Some factors that put you more at risk for gallstones include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having extra estrogen from pregnancy, birth control pills, or menopausal hormone therapy
- Being a woman
- Being over 60 years old
- Taking drugs that lower cholesterol
- Having diabetes
- Losing weight quickly
Because of high levels of cholesterol in their bile, more American Indians have gallstones than other women in the United States. Among the Pima Indians of Arizona, 70 percent of women have gallstones by age 30.
If you have gallstones without symptoms, you probably won't need to do anything. Treatment for gallstones with symptoms usually means removing the gallbladder.
Explore other publications and websites
Gallstones — This fact sheet explains the causes, symptoms, treatment, and possible complications of gallstones.
Gallstones (Copyright © American College of Gastroenterology) — This fact sheet lists risk factors for gallstones in women, including multiple pregnancies, obesity, and Hispanic or American Indian heritage. It also provides information about how gallstones are diagnosed and treated.
Gallstones (Copyright © Cleveland Clinic) — This fact sheet explains how gallstones form and the risk factors that contribute to their formation. It also describes the treatment methods for gallstones, which include surgery and oral dissolution therapy.
Connect with other organizations
American College of Gastroenterology
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NIDDK, NIH, HHS
National Indian Women's Health Resource Center (NIWHRC)
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
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