Gallstones are hardened pieces of cholesterol and other substances found in the gallbladder. They usually do not present significant health problems. In fact, most people who have them do not even know it until a more severe problem develops. Some gallstones are as small as grains of sand. Others are as big as golf balls.
Most people with gallstones never experience symptoms. Those who do usually feel mild pain deep in the stomach or in the stomach’s upper right side. In some cases, a person may feel this pain spread to the shoulder and upper back.
Symptoms become more severe when gallstones block bile ducts. When this happens, a person can experience fever, chills, and even yellowing of the eyes and skin.
The majority of people with gallstones don’t require treatment. If a person experiences mild pain on occasion, then doctors usually focus on managing the pain through over-the-counter analgesics.
Persisting or intense pain, however, can mean that a patient needs surgery. Gallstones develop in the gallbladder, so surgeons remove the organ to prevent future problems. Many surgeons prefer using laparoscopic surgical techniques because they require small incisions that heal quickly.
Most people recover and return to their regular schedules within two weeks.
Removing the gallbladder does not cause any significant health concerns. The gallbladder holds bile that is used to help digest fat. Without the gallbladder, bile flows directly into the intestines. This can cause some changes in digestion, but, other than that, most people don’t notice any difference.