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Gallstones - What are the symptoms of gallstones?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Most people don't get any symptoms from their gallstones. But some people get pain in their abdomen and feel sick.

If you don't have symptoms, you might only find out that you have gallstones by accident. These stones can show up in tests done for other reasons. For example, if you have an ultrasound scan for some other reason, it may show gallstones.

Gallstones cause symptoms when they block off the tubes that carry bile. If you do get symptoms, the most common one is pain in your abdomen. Your abdomen is the area below your ribs and above your hips. The two other common symptoms are feeling sick and throwing up.

More rarely, you may have an attack of pain that doesn't go away. With this attack, you may also get a fever. And your skin and eyes may turn yellow.

You may have gallstones for a long time before they start to bother you. And if you get symptoms, it may be weeks, months, or even years before you get them again. Or you may get them quite often, especially after you eat fatty foods.

You may have different symptoms at different times. It depends on where a gallstone gets stuck and how long it stays stuck.

Pain from gallstones

You get pain in your abdomen when a gallstone gets stuck in one of the tubes that carry bile. This pain is steady and bad. You usually feel it in the upper right side of your abdomen. It feels like cramping. Doctors call it biliary pain or biliary colic.

You often get this pain in the evening or at night. And it typically comes on fast, often after you eat. It may stop after only 15 minutes. But it typically goes away after four hours to six hours. Sometimes it lasts up to 24 hours.

With time, the gallstone may pass. It just goes into your bowel and out in your stool. In that case, your pain goes away.

Your first attack of biliary pain may scare you a lot because it hurts so much. You may think you're having a heart attack. You may have to stop what you are doing. Usually, painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen don't work for this kind of pain. Moving around or passing wind doesn't help either.

During an attack of biliary pain, you may also feel sick and throw up. You may be sweaty and feel restless. And your abdomen may still feel sore even after the attack has passed.

If you get regular attacks of biliary pain from gallstones, you may also:

  • Feel full earlier than usual when eating

  • Get indigestion

  • Belch a lot after eating

  • Get wind or indigestion after eating fatty food.

Other conditions can also give you symptoms like these. These conditions include an ulcer in your bowel or stomach and irritable bowel syndrome. Your doctor will check for these too.[15][16]

Last Updated: November 23, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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