Gallstones, also called cholelithiasis, are hard deposits that form in your gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small organ located on the right side of the abdomen, just under the liver. It is responsible for the creation of bile, which is a substance that helps digest fats, including cholesterol. If there is too much cholesterol for the bile to dissolve, if the bile contains too much bilirubin, or if the gallbladder does not empty correctly, gallstones can form. In many cases, gallstones do not cause any issues. However, if the gallstones are large enough, they may cause redness and swelling (inflammation) of the gallbladder, blockage in the parts of the gallbladder and pancreas, and even gallbladder cancer. If the gallstones cause symptoms, they may include pain in the abdomen, pain between the shoulder blades or pain in the right shoulder.
Risk factors for gallstones include being a female above 60 years of age, being overweight, eating a high-cholesterol and high-fat diet, having a family history of gallstones or diabetes, and taking certain cholesterol reducing medications. Your doctor can diagnose gallstones by taking images of your gallbladder, including a CT scan or MRI. Blood tests may also be needed to look for infection or other complications caused by gallstones. Treatment is not necessary if you do not have symptoms. However, if you have symptoms or other complications that are caused by gallstones, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder or medications to dissolve gallstones. If you have been diagnosed with gallstones, talk with your doctor about the current treatment recommendations.