What are the Causes of Gallstones?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 June 2019
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Doctors theorize that common causes of gallstones can include abnormally high cholesterol in the bile, often as a result of medication or dietary factors, or a buildup of bilirubin, as seen in patients with infections in the gall bladder and liver conditions like cirrhosis. Radical weight changes, use of hormones like estrogen, diabetes, and high dietary fat have all been identified as risk factors for gallstones, making it more likely that people will develop this condition.

That said, the causes of gallstones are not fully understood, although certain risk factors do appear to increase the chances of developing these deposits in the gall bladder. One of the biggest risks is gender, with women being around twice as likely to have this condition. In addition, there appear to be hereditary causes of gallstones. People with a family history of this disease are more likely to develop stones as they age. Individuals in families known to develop gallstones may want to consider addressing risks by keeping their weight stable, watching the balance of their diets, and discussing non-hormonal birth control options to control their exposure to hormones.


Even with controlling for risks, it is still possible for people to develop stones, and it is advisable to seek prompt medical attention for abdominal pain, weight loss, and nausea, all potential signs of gallstone development. Treatment for gallstones depends on the type of stones involved and their size; it may be possible to dissolve them for the patient to pass, or the patient may need surgery to correct the problem.

Gallstones are deposits of cholesterol or dietary pigments that build up inside the gall bladder, and may move into the gall ducts, blocking the free movement of bile. People with this condition can develop acute abdominal pain and jaundice. Medical imaging studies are useful for locating gallstones and determining their composition to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Such studies may be recommended in a patient with abdominal pain and known exposure to one or more causes of gallstones.

Research on the causes of gallstones is used to identify ways to help patients avoid them in the first place and catch them early when they do appear. Patients concerned about the risks may want to discuss the situation with their doctors to see if there is anything specific they can do to catch stones early if they do develop. The earlier the diagnosis, the easier the treatment, and the risk of complications is also significantly reduced with early and appropriate care.



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