Healthy Living

The Tell-Tale Signs of Gallstones

The Tell-Tale Signs of Gallstones

Key Takeaways

  • A gallbladder attack can cause chest pain that can be mistaken for a heart attack.
  • Pain in the belly is the most common sign of gallstones.
  • Although diseases of the gallbladder is quite common in adults, most people do not suffer any kind of pain during the initial stages of the condition. 

We have all heard stories; both happy and painful ones. Most people who have experienced the symptoms of gallstones, especially belly pain say it is unbearable and worse than labor pain!

Gallstones are stones of different sizes that are created from bilirubin and cholesterol within the gallbladder.

  • The gallbladder is a tiny bag like organ located in the upper abdominal cavity. It can be found below the liver on the right side under the rib cage.
  • The gallbladder is an important component of the biliary system which also contains the pancreas and liver.
  • This biliary system is also tasked with moving the digestive bile and enzymes within the body.

Bile is a liquid created by the liver to aid fat digestion.

  • It has many different elements such as cholesterol and waste deposits of blood cells in the liver which are called bilirubin.
  • The gallbladder stores the bile until it is required.
  • When we consume any food with lots of cholesterol and fat, the gallbladder squeezes and moves bile through the common bile duct into the small intestine. This bile helps the process of digestion.

Gallstones are really scary! They are sometimes mistaken for a stroke. The gallbladder cannot function properly when it is unhealthy and as a result, small stone-like substances known as gallstones develop and block the common bile duct. If bile returns to the gallbladder, it causes pain and sometimes infects the gallbladder resulting in a condition called Cholecystitis.

An attack by a gallbladder can last for minutes or even some hours and may force the victim to seek medical attention. It is vital that you recognize the signs and symptoms of gallstones to avoid a sudden attack.

The following are the signs of gallstones explained in depth:

1. Belly Pain

Pain in the belly is one of the popular and evident signs of gallstones. The pain starts in the upper region of the abdomen just below the ribs and radiates slowly towards the middle part of the belly or at the back. This kind of pain lasts for about fifteen minutes but a number of victims may experience it for hours.

2. Indigestion

This sign appears as nausea, gas and discomfort in the abdomen after meals. These symptoms are hard to differentiate from normal complaints. Since the gallbladder plays a role in food digestion, it makes sense that the digestion process would definitely be affected by the organ. Biliary pain is also another symptom experienced as a result of indigestion. The gallbladder helps in the breaking down and absorption of fats.

3. Vomiting and Lack of Appetite

Extreme vomiting, especially after meals is a sign of gallstones and this is mostly caused by gallstone pain. However, the vomiting can relieve the abdominal pain and gas pressure. The pain known as biliary colic can also be triggered by sleeping postures and the consumption of a fatty or large meal.

As the abdominal pain worsens, your appetite also diminishes gradually. Vomiting can also instill fear in the patient due to discomfort and pain. Digestion can be very painful upon blockage of the bile duct by the gallstones.

4. Jaundice

When gallstones lodge in the common bile duct, they make the skin and the white part of your eyes yellowish. This condition is referred as jaundice. Bile is a mixture of bilirubin, a waste product and bile salts that aid in digestion after meals. Nevertheless, if you have gallstones, the gallbladder might not release bile into the small intestine. 

5. Urine Changes

The presence of gallstones can cause the urine to be yellow or dark brown.

6. Changes in Stool

Gallstones can grow in size and cause the stool of the patient to turn into clay-like color or pale. When the gallstones become bigger, they block the common bile duct. Apart from discoloration, the stool may become loose and lighter in weight.

7. Diarrhea

Belly pain with explosive bowel movements can occur if you have gallstones. The pain may radiate to the breast bone, abdomen and back. Diarrhea signifies the lack of bile which indicates a blockage.

8. Fever

When the bile duct gets infected, patients with a gallbladder attack or have gallstones may experience chills and fever. Few of the people attacked by gallstones also suffer from fever and chills.

9. Pain in the Chest

Apart from heartburn, a gallbladder attack can cause chest pain and is always faulted for a heart attack. The heartburn appears in a flaming sensation while moving upwards towards the neck. 

Although diseases of the gallbladder is quite common in adults, most people do not suffer any kind of pain during the initial stages of the condition. Gallstones alone do not cause pain. It is the site of bile duct blockage that gets swollen and causes severe pain.

The symptoms of gallbladder disease occur in three stages as follows:

Gallstones are Formed- This is the primary stage in which the gallstones appear in the gallbladder but you may not feel any discomfort or pain at all. The gallstones are stiff bits of bile and vary in size from a small grain to a squash ball. Usually most people do not move onto the next stage.

Gallbladder Symptoms- This is the secondary stage where patients are likely to feel some gallbladder pain at frequent intervals. They may also display some symptoms such as nausea, digestive distress, flatulence and burping. The symptoms usually appear after the consumption of high fat food. This pain caused by the blockage of bile duct by gallstones can last for a long time.

Gallbladder Blockage- After the bile duct is blocked by the gallstone, the gallbladder gets inflamed. If the blocked bile duct is not attended at once, serious symptoms of the third stage will appear. At this stage, the complications can be quite severe and the patient will need medical help quickly. Some of the symptoms that manifest are extreme pain in the abdomen, loss of appetite, shivering and fever. If left unattended, the blockage can also result in cancer.