6 Causes of Gallstones

You’ve probably heard of gallstones before, but you may not know how common this malady is. Gallstones, as their name implies, are “stones” or pieces of solid matter that form inside your gallbladder. The stones are frequently harmless and cause no symptoms. But if your gallstones get too large or block one of your bile ducts, they can cause a medical emergency. If you have a family history of gallstones, or if you’ve had problems with stones yourself in the past, it’s important for you to be aware of what causes this problem so you can reduce your risk of developing it.

Most stones are made of cholesterol. Others can be caused by a build-up of bilirubin in your bile. If you develop gallstones, it’s not always obvious from the outside that you have them. Common symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen
  • Upper back pain
  • Pain in the right shoulder
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you develop any of the symptoms above, you should call your doctor right away. It’s especially important that you seek medical attention if any of the six risk factors listed below apply to you. Gallstones can happen to anybody, but you’re at increased risk if any of the following are true.

1.  Genes

Unfortunately, the number-one risk factor for whether you’ll develop gallstones is entirely out of your control — it’s your genes. The genes your parents and grandparents passed along to you play a major role in whether or not you’re prone to getting buildups of cholesterol and bilirubin in your gallbladder. In fact, as many as 30% of cases of gallstones and related health problems can be blamed on genetics rather than lifestyle factors that can be changed. So, if you’re not sure whether you have a family history of gallbladder problems, it’s a good idea to ask any relatives you can whether they’ve ever had gallstones or a similar issue.

Why is there a genetic factor involved in the development of gallstones? Medical researchers don’t actually know right now. They do, however, have some guesses about why the problem tends to run in families. Some researchers think that defects in some types of proteins may contribute to the development of stones, and these defects can be passed along from parents to children. Moreover, ethnicity tends to play a role in gallstone development — women of native American and native Mexican descent are at highest risk for experiencing this problem, while people of east Asian and African descent are at lowest risk.