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The Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Gallstones: My Experience

This person believes that her gallbladder is trying to kill her. Don't try this at home, folks. (Yes, this was after the morphine and no, I do not know how one eye got higher than the other.)

This person believes that her gallbladder is trying to kill her. Don't try this at home, folks. (Yes, this was after the morphine and no, I do not know how one eye got higher than the other.)

I Have a Problem

Every so often, though it occurs every three to five days now, I feel like I'm dying. No joke.

My stomach starts to hurt, and then I get this excruciating pain on the right side of my abdomen, right under my rib cage. On the worst occasions, the pain radiates around my back to my kidneys and up through the center of my chest. The first time that happened, I thought I was having a heart attack. The pains and nausea (and worse) go hand in hand.

I have peptic ulcers caused by a bacterial infection I had in 2006 called H. pylori. I thought this was just a worsening of the ulcers or a recurrence of the bacteria.

When these episodes first started, probably in November of 2010, I didn't know what to think. After some internet research and consultations with my best friend, who had to have her gallbladder removed several years ago, I decided there was something wrong with my gallbladder, too. So I made the decision to (mostly) steer clear of greasy and acidic foods (bye-bye spaghetti), as they tend to cause a flare-up.

Then it got worse.

Every time I overeat, I'm sick. If I even think about gravy, I'm sick. If I even think about thinking about chili cheese fries . . . well, you get the picture.

For the most part, I've done okay. I do take a few herbal remedies, and they help. But then Monday happened (10/10/12)

We'd had pot roast for supper, and it was amazing. I had an extra spoonful of carrots and potatoes because that's how I roll. Of course, I had a (great big, heaping) ladle of gravy, too. My bad.

By 7:00 p.m. I had pressure in my stomach, and I knew what was coming. By 10:00, the pain was so bad that I had to ask my roommate to call an ambulance for me. I've never felt this kind of pain in my whole life. At the hospital, even after a shot of morphine, I still thought I was dying.

Turns out, after a terribly painful ultrasound, I was told I had biliary colic.

"I'm sorry. What?"

"Gallstones. You need surgery to get your gallbladder removed."

"Oh. Awesome."

I think the doctor missed my sarcasm.

My poor attempt at humor aside, however, the incident made me want to get some information out there for anyone who might be having some of the same symptoms.

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To keep the body in good health is a duty . . . otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

— Buddha

Believe it or not, those are gallstones, likely the cholesterol type due to their color. And they HURT!

Believe it or not, those are gallstones, likely the cholesterol type due to their color. And they HURT!

What Causes Gallstones?

The gallbladder is an organ that's part of your digestive tract. It stores the bile produced by your liver until your body needs it for digesting fats. A gallstone begins as a tiny crystal in the gallbladder about the size of a grain of sand. It's either caused by cholesterol or a combination of bilirubin and calcium salts that are all found in bile.

Over time, these crystals accumulate more cells and grow bigger. Most of the time, they're harmless. Millions of people may have them and never know it. Occasionally, one or more of these "stones" will get big enough to cause some problems.

What Are The Symptoms Of Gallstones?

Gallstones aren't picky. They'll grow in just about anybody. There are some folks who are more prone to having issues with them than others, though. Pre-menopausal women are more likely to have them. Also, women who have had three or more children can develop gallstones. Those who are on low fiber and high cholesterol diets, as well as folks who have lost a large amount of weight fairly rapidly, can develop them—it's a common side effect of weight loss surgery. Also, people with certain vitamin deficiencies can get them, specifically vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, or folate.

Different gallbladder problems can have a lot of the same symptoms, so if you have any or all of these, it does not automatically mean that you have gallstones. Although science cannot explain why, these attacks usually happen at night, regardless of the schedule you keep. (I have had them beginning as early as 6:00 PM or as late as 3:00 AM.) These are some of the symptoms you should look for:

  • Pain in the right side of the abdomen, usually just below the rib cage
  • Radiating pain in the stomach beginning in the middle
  • Pain in the chest, under the right shoulder blade, or the right lower back
  • Gas and bloating with an often foul-smelling burp
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Yellow discoloration of the whites of the eyes and the skin—jaundice

Please note, if you have that last one, you need to call your doctor pronto.

If you have some of these symptoms, you could just have a really gnarly case of acid indigestion. If you have several of them and have had them on more than one occasion, then it's time to call your doctor—even if their name isn't Pronto. If the pain is so bad that you are having trouble breathing, then you need to be seen by a medical professional immediately. Please don't be dumb like me and let this go on for years before seeing a doctor—I've put myself through literally years of unnecessary pain.

From the beginning of an episode, the pain could last anywhere from thirty minutes to four or five hours. In my experience, if I've thrown up, I will likely be really hungry once all of the pain has subsided. I will eat a small cup of yogurt, and it does help. My belly will also usually be very tender after the episode, and that will last for several hours.

When you talk to your doctor, he will likely order an ultrasound to check for the presence of gallstones and to look a the general state of your gallbladder and other organs. From there, they will make their diagnosis, and you can talk about treatment.

Treatment of Gallstones

Most likely, if your gallbladder is infested with tons of gallstones and you have recurring attacks, your doctor will sign you up for surgery to remove the gallbladder itself. This procedure is called a cholecystectomy. Though there are other treatments, none are permanent or as effective as the removal of the gallbladder. This could happen in one of two ways.

  1. An open cholecystectomy requires an incision on the upper right abdomen. The wound will be several inches long, and there can be up to five days in the hospital to recover.
  2. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the removal of the gallbladder through small incisions in the abdomen and the recovery time is minimal.

There are "gallstone flushes" all over the internet. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor, but I would strongly urge you to be very careful with these should you choose to do one. Though there are many people who will swear by them, the medical community is, in general, skeptical of them as a whole. Patients have said that they've flushed their gallstones but, upon examination, the material that has been flushed is likely not from the gallbladder. Beware of snake oil!

Because I am going to have surgery soon to remove my gallbladder, I would love to hear from anyone who has had the procedure. I have a good idea of what to expect, but I'm looking for suggestions on how to make the process easier—especially once I'm back home. I understand there are a lot of things that I'll need to be careful about!

Please and thank you!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


RB on August 17, 2013:

Georgie Lowery...what happened after your surgery? Did everything go smooth after having the gallbladder removed? I will have my laparascopic surgery done in Oct. hoping to hear from you soon. Thanks

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 05, 2012:

Wow!! You have informed me of a problem which most women have thanks so much for this my neighbor had gallstone problems.

Georgie Lowery (author) from North Florida on October 10, 2012:


I am worried about not being able to eat the things that I really love, though I really can't eat a lot of things right now. Losing the pain might be a good trade off.


Gallstones suck. I wonder if the surgeon will let me keep mine?

Julie Fletcher:

I do remember how bad it was for you, and I'm grateful I'm not there yet. You are a great source of information and not just for this kind of thing. Thank you again! :)


I'll seriously be glad to get rid of mine. I'm not even looking at it as surgery, but more as a relief!


I was telling some pretty awesome jokes in the ER, though the morphine had something to do with it, I'm sure. Thanks for the well wishes!

Millionaire Tips:

Thank you, too! :)


Right now, I think I'm more scared of another attack than I am the surgery. Ihave a few things I have to sort out before it can be done, though. As for the pot roast, you should get Julie up there to give you her recipe. OMG! Seriously! And thank you for the prayers.


I just added Mr Jolly. I think there may be no amount of herbal remedies that will stave off the surgery for long. I'll send up smoke signals or something (or send you an eBay messge) when I get wheeled off into surgery. I hope they give me laughing gas!


I'd heard about the Drano thing. Me. No. Like. But it's better than being doubled up all night long, right? Thanks for your take!


Thank you. I sincerely appreciate it. :)


I've seen the different cleanses, and I'm not sure I want to do any of them. The problem will likely be recurring for me so I think the best thing I can do is to just get rid of the dang gallbladder. People's stories do vary, and you are right that everybody is different. I'm hoping I'll still get ice cream, though. ;)

Thank you all for the comments and the advice, I really do appreciate them!

Linda Crist from Central Virginia on October 06, 2012:

Great article Georgie! I'm sorry you are facing surgery. Two comments from this peanut gallery. rajan holly is a great resource. I also have friends who do regular holistic cleansing and you won't believe the stones that they pass as a result. I've seen them fill a Mason jar with stones - painlessly. The other advice I would give you is not to put stock in other people's experience. Each person is different. Have your own experience and remember that attitude is half the battle. That shouldn't be a problem for you. You've got great attitude! Keep us posted.

Vote up!

flashmakeit from usa on October 05, 2012:

I hope your surgery improves your health and I will be praying for you.

unique-dragonfly on October 05, 2012:

Georgie, I had my gall baladder out when I was 18, i am now... well old! I had to have it done the hard way because the easy way wasn't even invented yet! The surgery was moderately painful, but I recovered quickly. Eating greasy foods was like drinking drano, no kidding, but after a few years, my digestive system came back to normal and now I am able to eat anything with out the nasty side affects. I hope you have an easy surgery and a speedy recovery! Love Ya!


Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on October 05, 2012:

Is there a RAJAN JOLLY in the house?

Georgie, are you familiar with this wonderful Hubber who does a tremendous amount of research and Hub-writing regarding health and nutrition? It may be a great idea to contact him and see if he has any pointers in the realm of alternative healing.

I'll talk to my wife, an RN who is truly seeing the light regarding the HUGE difference between what the AMA prescribes and the wise teachings of the elders, and see if I can glean any information that would be helpful. Seems to me she had a recipe for a natural cleanse that might be worth looking into.

IF and when you do have surgery, please give us all a shout out so we can lift you and the surgical team up in thoughts and prayers.

Aloha, Georgie!

Ka'imi'loa from Tucson, AZ. on October 05, 2012:

I feel for you honeygirl, I'm not sure there are any words that could probably comfort the "fear" you may be experiencing, but if there is someone reputable in your comments that has had this procedure done and they are able to give you helpful hints, then I hope they are applicable for you as well.

I will be praying that you do recover from all this and that you end up okay from all ailments.

Mmm...Mmm...Mmm, speaking of slow cooked pot roast....

Lotsa love &respect


Shasta Matova from USA on October 05, 2012:

Ditto what Kathy said - I haven't had any gall bladder troubles, but I do wish you the best on your surgery and the aftermath. Thanks for all the info. Hopefully I won't ever need it, but you never know.

Kathy Sima from Ontario, Canada on October 05, 2012:

I haven't had any gall bladder troubles (knock on wood) so I can't offer you any advice. I just want to wish you the best with your surgery. I hope everything goes smoothly for you. You definitely have a great attitude about it - I love that you were able to inject some humor into this informative article, despite the fact you're in pain right now. All the best!

Jamie Sykes from Lewisville, North Carolina on October 05, 2012:

You know I had my gallbladder out this past January. And it had to be done "the hard way" and not laproscopically, but you know why.

I haven't had any complications or anything. I can eat anything I want (almost) without paying for it. But then again, my results aren't typical, seeing how I have an ileostomy. The only thing that bothers me when I eat it still is chicken pastry (like dumplings but thinner.)

I'm glad I had the little booger out. I haven't had anymore pain. I mean, Hell, the thing had me in the hospital right before I got married and right after.

Julie Fletcher on October 05, 2012:

Well, you already know how much it sucked for me. The surgery was pretty smooth and I ended up with 3 small scars. (Wanna see them? I'll show you later.)

I've told you, but I think anyone that may have this surgery needs to know - after the surgery, anytime you eat anything, be near a bathroom. The bile that your liver creates usually sits in the gall bladder and is released in small amounts. Greasy foods can stimulate this. BUT, with no gall bladder, that bile is leaking into your digestive tract constantly. What it does? Lubricates your colon.

I'm sorry, this sounds gross and yes, it is gross. You will more than likely never need to worry about constipation again. On those rare times you may--it isn't as bad as before the surgery.

Also, you may be told that you will lose weight. Not so for quite a bit of people that have this surgery. You won't be absorbing fat as much as before, but for some reason post-surgery patients see an increase in weight around their middle. G, you've seen first hand with me that post-surgery people aren't skinny. I've been struggling with my body shape quite a bit.

You may also have phantom pains, I have them at times. Acid attacks are common, but milk, acid pills, or yogurt can stop it in it's tracks. It isn't often, but if you suddenly feel a pain like a gall bladder attack starting and it has been six months since your surgery, it will freak you out. Keep calm and drink milk.

carol stanley from Arizona on October 05, 2012:

Good information to have. Learned some new things about gall stones. Thanks for sharing all this information. Voting UP+++

Tabithia on October 05, 2012:

I had my gallbladder out 2 years ago. The pain was horrible, and not being able to sleep at night cause of the pain was the worst.

I think what I hate the most now that its out, is still not being able to enjoy the foods that I used to be able to eat ( Greasy Burgers from a Bar) and I don't like to go out to eat, because I never know if what I am going to eat will make me sick. But I must say, I feel so much better now that it is gone!

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