What are Gallstones? 3 Dangers to Leaving Them Untreated

News You Can Use
3 min readMar 25, 2024

By: Dr. Donna Powell & Dr. Renee M. Marchioni Beery

Gallstones, while small in size, can wreak havoc on your health if left untreated. Understanding what these small particles are, along with the risks they pose can transform your mindset on preventative digestive health and help you have informed conversations with your doctor if you have concerns.

What Are Gallstones?

The gallbladder, located right beneath the liver, stores bile that our bodies produce while digesting fat. Gallstones are solid particles formed in the gallbladder when there is an imbalance in the components making up the bile, including cholesterol and calcium. These stones can vary in size from grains of sand to golf balls, and if large enough will obstruct bile ducts and cause inflammation, leading to severe discomfort and complications.

Factors Contributing to Imbalance

Many factors can contribute to the imbalances that create gallstones including high cholesterol levels, reduced gallbladder emptying, changes in bile composition, obesity, rapid weight loss, pregnancy, genetics, and certain medical conditions.

Leaving Gallstones Untreated

  1. Gallbladder Inflammation (Cholecystitis): One of the most common complications of gallstones is inflammation of the gallbladder, known as cholecystitis. When gallstones block the ducts that drain bile from the gallbladder, it can lead to irritation, swelling, and infection of the gallbladder wall. Symptoms of gallbladder inflammation may include severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Without prompt medical intervention, this condition can be life-threatening and requires emergency surgery.
  2. Biliary Colic: Gallstones can cause episodes of intense pain in a patient’s stomach, known as biliary colic. These episodes occur when a gallstone becomes lodged in the bile duct, obstructing the flow of bile. The pain typically begins suddenly and can spread to the back or shoulder blades. While biliary colic itself is not life-threatening, the severe pain it causes often requires medical attention to reduce symptoms.
  3. Gallstone Pancreatitis: In some cases, gallstones can trigger inflammation of the pancreas, a condition known as gallstone pancreatitis. When gallstones block the pancreatic duct, digestive enzymes become trapped and activate within the pancreas, leading to damaged tissue and inflammation. Gallstone pancreatitis can cause severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Without timely treatment, it can result in complications such as infection, organ failure, and even death.

Ignoring gallstones can have serious consequences for your health and well-being, but with treatment, these symptoms can be alleviated. If you experience symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or jaundice, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately. A gastroenterologist can perform diagnostic tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or blood tests to confirm the presence of gallstones and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Don’t let gallstones compromise your health. Contact Gastro MD. for comprehensive evaluation and management of gallbladder disorders. Our team of experienced gastroenterologists is dedicated to providing personalized care to help you maintain optimal digestive health.