In the vast majority of individuals, gallstones do not cause any symptoms. However, sometimes gallstones can become trapped in ducts, or irritate the gallbladder, and cause symptoms, such as:
- A sudden intense pain in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
The scale of the issue
Gallstones are very common. It is estimated that 6-22% of the population in Europe have gallstones1. However, 80% of individuals with gallstones will not suffer any symptoms linked to their presence, and the outlook for patients with gallbladder disease is extremely positive as the mortality rate is very low2.
There are three main stages of gallbladder disease:
- Asymptomatic gallstones: gallstones are present but do not cause any symptoms.
- Uncomplicated gallstone disease: usually caused when gallstones block the bile duct. This can lead to episodes of abdominal pain that last several hours but occur infrequently.
- Complicated (symptomatic) gallstones, or gallbladder disease: gallstones cause serious complications, e.g. inflammation of the gallbladder. Symptoms can include a high temperature, jaundice and constant abdominal pain.
The treatment for gallbladder disease is the removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy), though not everyone will require surgery if their symptoms are not frequent or severe2.