Most people (80%) do not have any symptoms when gallstones are present in the gallbladder. However, when gallstones grow large, they can travel to and block narrow passages (ducts) meant only for liquid bile. This blockage is called choledocholithiasis. When this happens, abdominal pain is usually the most common symptom. It can be constant pain or pain that comes and goes, especially after meals. Other commonly associated symptoms include intolerance to fatty meals, bloating, belching, and indigestion.

The cystic duct drains bile from the gallbladder. The hepatic duct drains bile from the liver. The hepatic duct and cystic duct join to form the common bile duct which carries bile to the small intestine. When gallstones block these ducts, they may lead to the following more serious conditions:

Biliary colic—right upper quadrant pain and cramping due to the gallstone blocking the cystic duct

Acute cholecystitis—inflammation of the gallbladder that occurs if the gallstone gets lodged in the cystic duct without passing into the common bile duct

Cholangitis—a serious infection and a medical emergency that can result if the common bile duct remains blocked by a gallstone, allowing bacteria to be trapped

Pancreatitis—inflammation of the pancreas that occurs as a result of gallstones blocking the lower part of the common bile duct

These conditions are likely to cause some of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain (usually recurrent right upper quadrant pain, especially in response to fatty foods)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Excess gas or flatus
  • Clay-colored stools

If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to gallstones. These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor.