What are the symptoms of gallstones?

Classic symptoms for gallstones include pain in the right upper part of the abdomen, with nausea and vomiting.

Common symptoms of gallstones include severe pain in the right middle or upper abdomen, as well as nausea and/or vomiting.

Symptoms of gallstones include recurrent pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, which can radiate to the back or shoulder, occasional pain in the middle of the abdomen and nausea that lasts for several hours, UCLA internist Peter Lefevre, M.D., explains. These symptoms are sometimes mistaken for reflux, indigestion, gas pain or food poisoning.

Approximately 12% of all American adults have gallstones; however, only about 25% of them develop symptoms. The classic symptoms caused by gallstones are attacks of pain or discomfort in the right upper abdomen that moves to the shoulder or around the back. These symptoms can come from eating fatty or greasy meals. The pain may be associated with nausea and typically relents a few hours later. The best test for diagnosis of gallstones is an ultrasound of your gallbladder.

Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Gallstones may be without symptoms or may be associated with periods of intense pain in the abdomen that radiates to the upper back. Symptoms begin only when a gallstone gets stuck in the duct leading from the gallbladder to the intestine. An ultrasound exam provides definitive diagnosis of gallstones.

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Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

As gallstones move into the bile ducts and create a blockage, pressure increases in the gallbladder and one or more symptoms may occur. Symptoms of blocked bile ducts are often called a gallbladder "attack" because they occur suddenly. Gallbladder attacks often follow fatty meals, and may occur during the night. A typical attack can cause the following:

  • Steady pain in the right upper abdomen that increases rapidly and lasts from 30 minutes to several hours
  • Pain in the back between the shoulder blades Pain under the right shoulder

Notify your doctor if you think you have experienced a gallbladder attack. Although these attacks often pass as gallstones move, your gallbladder can become infected and rupture if a blockage remains.

People with any of the following symptoms should see a doctor immediately:

  • Prolonged pain-more than five hours
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever-even low-grade-or chills
  • Yellowish color of the skin or whites of the eyes
  • Clay-colored stools

Many people with gallstones have no symptoms; these gallstones are called "silent stones." They do not interfere with gallbladder, liver, or pancreas function and do not need treatment.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Gallstones, caused by the crystallization of excess cholesterol in the bile, often have no symptoms at all. But they can cause sharp, shooting pain in the upper right of the abdomen. This pain can last from a few minutes to 12 hours. Often, this pain can occur after a heavy meal. Nausea and vomiting are common. Most of the time it passes on its own, but in up to 4 out of 10 cases the pain will return, and complications may occur, including fever, jaundice, chills, and infection.

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You may not have symptoms with gallstones. About 80 percent of gallstones cause no symptoms and require no medical help. However, if a gallstone should end up blocking a bile duct in your gallbladder, you may experience sudden and severe pain in the upper right area of your abdomen. This is frequently referred to as a "gallbladder attack," and often occurs after eating fatty foods and at night. You might also feel pain between your shoulder blades and in your right shoulder. Pain can last for minutes or several hours. Other symptoms, any of which indicate a need for medical help right away, include fever or chills, clay-colored stools, jaundice, and nausea or vomiting.

The symptoms of gallstones include abdominal pain, vomiting, fever and more.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.