Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Gallstones Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Gallstones

Sometimes gallstones form, but cause no symptoms. When gallstones do cause symptoms, the symptoms tend to come on suddenly.

The most common symptom is pain in the upper belly (abdomen). This pain gets worse and lasts for at least 30 minutes. It may last for as long as a few hours. Your child may feel the pain that the pain is centered on the upper right side of the belly.

It is difficult for most children younger than about 9 or 10 years old to pinpoint their pain. They may seem vague about where they hurt. But some older children or young adults may describe their pain as:

  • Centering in the right upper or middle upper belly
  • Spreading to the back or between the shoulder blades
  • Feeling sharp, camping or dull
  • Going away, then coming back again (recurrent)
  • Happening just after eating a meal
  • Getting worse after eating fatty or greasy foods

If a gallstone blocks a duct, your child may also have some or all of these symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Jaundice, a yellowish tint to the skin and eyes.

Gallstones Diagnosis

Doctors often diagnose gallstones using ultrasound exams. An ultrasound machine emits sounds waves that bounce off the gallbladder and other organs to form a picture on a video monitor. The doctor can look for gallstones in this picture.

Sometimes doctors use other imaging techniques to look for gallstones or blocked ducts, or to check how well the gallbladder is working. Your child's doctor may ask your child to have:

  • An abdominal X-ray
  • Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan), which lets doctors see how well your child's gallbladder contracts
  • An ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography), which helps doctors find and remove gallstones in the bile ducts.
  • An MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography), a type of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that takes detailed pictures of bile and the biliary tract

Your child may need blood tests, too. Blood tests may show signs of infection, obstruction, jaundice or other problems related to gallstones.