What Do Gallstones Feel Like?

Gallstones can cause severe abdominal pain if blocking the bile duct or the gallbladder.

August 29, 2019 2 minute read

One of the most common causes of gallbladder pain are gallstones—hardened deposits of digestive fluid, also called gallstone disease, or cholelithiasis. Gallstones may never manifest symptoms, but if they move to block the bile duct or the gallbladder (cholecystitis), they can cause severe pain, and may call for surgical removal of the gallbladder, a procedure called a cholecystectomy.

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located behind your liver. The gallbladder stores bile--a greenish-brown, alkaline fluid that aids in the digestion of fats--after secretion by the liver.

A gallstone develops when bile collects and hardens into a stone in the gallbladder. The most common type are cholesterol gallstones, formed when bile is supersaturated with cholesterol.

Another kind of gallstone is a pigment stone. These are dark in color (brown or black) and comprised mostly of bilirubin and calcium salts, two other ingredients in bile.

If you are feeling pain associated with a gallbladder problem, your discomfort will most often originate in the upper right portion of your abdomen. It will likely come on suddenly, and intensify quickly. This may also be felt in the center of your abdomen, just beneath the breastbone, or may present as back pain, between your shoulder blades.

Who’s at Risk?

The risk of gallstones increases as we age. However, before 60, women are at higher risk of developing gallstones than men. Afterward, men and women are at about equal risk for developing gallstones. Other factors that may lead to gallstones include being overweight, losing weight at a rapid pace, diabetes, and a family history of gallstones.


Approximately 20 million Americans have gallstones. Of those, about 300,000 opt for cholecystectomy, or surgical removal of the gallbladder, per year.

Gallstones are one of several causes of abdominal pain. The doctors at Gastroenterology Associates are trained to diagnose this condition, and eliminate other possible causes.

Gastroenterology Associates specializes in helping restore you and your family to optimal digestive health. We are conveniently located adjacent to Long Island Center for Digestive Health (LICDH), a New York State-licensed non-hospital outpatient facility dedicated to providing high-quality endoscopic and colonoscopic services in a comfortable, welcoming environment. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today!