For many people, gallstones do not cause any symptoms. People who do not show any signs of gallstones are ‘asymptomatic’ and the gallstones are known as ‘silent stones’. Such stones do not impair gastric function and do not require treatment. However, gallstones can move in position and lead to obstruction of bile ducts, which can also cause an emergency situation known as gallbladder attack, often after a heavy meal. Further, a blockage of bile or pancreatic duct can be life threatening, if left untreated.
So how does one know if they have gallstones?
Here are the top 5 signs:
If a stone gets stuck in a bile duct (hepatic, cystic, or common bile duct), causing its blockage, the person will begin to feel pain. This type of pain is known as biliary colic and is the primary symptom of gallstone. The pain manifests in the following ways:
- Sudden, intense pain in the upper right abdomen that grows rapidly
- Intense pain in the centre of the abdomen, below the breastbone
- Shoulder pain on the right side
- Pain in the back, between the shoulder blades
Biliary colic pain results from the bile duct obstruction, which causes the fluid to accumulate while the liver continues to secrete more bile. In case of cystic duct obstruction, gallbladder wall secretes the accumulating bile into the gall bladder. This distension of the bile ducts and the gall bladder is felt in form of pain.
A person suspecting gallstones should check the colour of their eyes and skin. Yellow eyes and skin, a sign of jaundice, is also a symptom for gallstones. Also, a gallstone patient may have dark urine and light, chalk-coloured, loose stools. This results from inadequate bile in the gastrointestinal tract. Diarrhoea or increased bowel movements in a day could also be a symptom.
3. Digestive discomfort
Gallstones or early signs of gall bladder disease could involve digestive troubles in form of heartburn, belching, gas, burps, indigestion or constipation. It is an indicator that food is not being digested properly.
4. Increased intolerance of fat-rich foods
A person with gallstones will find it difficult to keep down a meal of fatty foods. Recurrent nausea and vomiting following a heavy, oil-rich food could be an indicator of gallstones.
5. Stomach flu or food poisoning or gallstone?
Gall stone symptoms can be easily confused with a stomach flu or mild food poisoning. These include queasiness, chronic fatigue, nausea and vomiting. However, if these symptoms keep repeating over time, it is more than a mild flu or food poisoning, and could be a gallstone symptom.
Time to consult a doctor?
Immediate medical help should be sought if a person experiences the following:
- Intense, unbearable abdominal pain
- Yellow skin and eyes
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- High fever accompanied with chills
“Gallstones,” MedicineNet.com, Jay W. Marks, https://www.medicinenet.com/gallstones/page5.htm
“Gallstones – Symptoms,” MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/basics/symptoms/con-20020461
“Gallstones,” National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NIH, https://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gallstones/Gallstones_508.pdf
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