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When bile stored in the gallbladder hardens into a stone-like material, we call it gallstones. A number of factors contribute to gallstones, including too much blood cholesterol or an imbalance of bile salts. Bilirubin can sometimes cause gallstones in people with liver cirrhosis, biliary tract infections, and heredity blood disorders.

At first, most gallstones do not cause symptoms. As gallstones become larger, or if they obstruct bile ducts, “attacks” may begin, often occurring after a fatty meal and at night. Symptoms usually, but not always, include: steady, severe pain in the upper abdomen that increases rapidly and may last several hours; pain in the back between the shoulder blades or in the right shoulder; nausea and vomiting; fever; chills; and other gastro-intestinal distress. People who experience sweating, chills, yellowing of the skin or eyes, or clay-colored stools should contact their doctor immediately.

Diagnosis of gallstones requires a full physical exam and usually an imaging test like an X-ray or ultrasound. Some other tests, like an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), give a better view of the biliary ducts.

Once your Tenet Florida Physicians Services doctor has reached a diagnosis, treatments will vary for each patient’s specific needs, overall health and medical history. Some patients need gallbladder removal, while others respond to medications that can dissolve the gallstones, or shock wave therapy (using sound waves to destroy gallstones).

Previous Page Last Review Date: January 5, 2018