What Causes Gallstones

The exact cause of gallstones is not fully understood, but several factors have been identified as potential contributors:

  • Excess cholesterol: The most common type of gallstone is made of cholesterol, which can crystallize and form stones when there is an excess amount in the bile produced by the liver.
  • Gallbladder motility problems: The gallbladder contracts to release bile into the small intestine to aid in digestion. If the gallbladder is not functioning properly, the bile may become stagnant, leading to the formation of gallstones.
  • Your bile contains too much bilirubin.┬áBilirubin is a chemical that’s produced when your body breaks down red blood cells. Certain conditions cause your liver to make too much bilirubin, including liver cirrhosis, biliary tract infections and certain blood disorders. The excess bilirubin contributes to gallstone formation.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, can increase the risk of developing gallstones.
  • Rapid weight loss or obesity: Rapid weight loss, especially through a very low-calorie diet, can increase the risk of developing gallstones. Obesity is also a risk factor for gallstones.
  • Genetics: Some people may be more prone to developing gallstones due to genetic factors.
  • Certain medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and liver disease, can increase the risk of developing gallstones.
  • Certain medications: Some medications, such as those used to lower cholesterol levels, can increase the risk of developing gallstones.

Other Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of gallstones include:

  • Being female
  • Being age 40 or older
  • Being a Native American
  • Being a Hispanic of Mexican origin
  • Being sedentary
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Eating a high-cholesterol diet
  • Eating a low-fiber diet
  • Having a family history of gallstones
  • Having certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia or leukemia
  • Taking medications that contain estrogen, such as oral contraceptives or hormone therapy drugs


Complications of gallstones may include:

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder. A gallstone that becomes lodged in the neck of the gallbladder can cause inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis). Cholecystitis can cause severe pain and fever.
  • Blockage of the common bile duct. Gallstones can block the tubes (ducts) through which bile flows from your gallbladder or liver to your small intestine. Severe pain, jaundice and bile duct infection can result.
  • Blockage of the pancreatic duct.┬áThe pancreatic duct is a tube that runs from the pancreas and connects to the common bile duct just before entering the duodenum. Pancreatic juices, which aid in digestion, flow through the pancreatic duct. A gallstone can cause a blockage in the pancreatic duct, which can lead to inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Pancreatitis causes intense, constant abdominal pain and usually requires hospitalization.
  • Gallbladder cancer. People with a history of gallstones have an increased risk of gallbladder cancer. But gallbladder cancer is very rare, so even though the risk of cancer is elevated, the likelihood of gallbladder cancer is still very small.

It is important to note that while these factors may increase the risk of developing gallstones, not everyone who has these risk factors will develop gallstones.