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Gallstones

Gallstones are hardened deposits that can form in your gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ found just below your liver on the right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder’s role is mainly to store bile, a digestive liquid your liver produces. The common bile duct joins the cystic duct from the gallbladder with the common hepatic duct from the liver, and runs through the pancreas. Bile flows into the gallbladder from the common hepatic duct and through the cystic duct. Sometimes the substances in the bile, particularly cholesterol, stick together to form stones of various sizes. It is possible to have gallstones and not know it, but when a stone is big enough to become stuck or lodged, it can block the flow of bile.

The stones usually pass in most people. If the stones are stuck, they can be quite painful, and they could cause inflammation and infection. Some people must have their gallbladder surgically removed. Either situation could potentially lead to sepsis. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection.

Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and treatment for survival. Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Gallstone symptoms 

It is possible to have gallstones and not know it. However, if the stones are big enough and are causing irritation or blockage in the ducts, you could experience some of the following signs and symptoms. They often come on very suddenly, without warning:

  • Worsening pain in the upper right part of your abdomen
  • Intensifying pain just below your breastbone
  • Back pain between your shoulder blades
  • Pain in your right shoulder
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you experience any of these worsening signs, please seek emergency help:

  • Abdominal pain so intense that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes
  • Tea-colored urine
  • High fever with chills

Risk factors

Anyone can develop gallstones, but some people, such as women or those over 60 years, are at higher risk. Other risk factors include:

  • Sudden and quick weight loss
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Eating a high-fat, high-cholesterol, or low-fiber diet
  • Family history of gallbladder disease
  • Diabetes
  • Taking some cholesterol-lowering medications or hormone therapy drugs with estrogen
  • American Indian or Mexican-American ancestry

Complications

Gallstones may cause an inflammation of your gallbladder, and blockage of the ducts that lead to and from the gallbladder. This can lead to infection.

Treatment

Treatment for gallstones depends on how much they are affecting you and if you are at risk for more stones and blockages. Gallbladder surgery removes your gallbladder, so you will no longer have stones. There are some medications that may dissolve some stones, but they are not commonly prescribed as they can take several months—even years—to work and they are not always effective.

Preventing gallstones

Not all gallstones can be prevented, but you can reduce your risk by following a healthy diet and losing weight in a healthy manner (not too drastically or quickly) if you are overweight.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

what is sepsis

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Updated November 1, 2021.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Gallstones

Alyson C.

Survivor

When you are pregnant you body goes through a lot of changes. You are tired, you feel ill, and you have aches and pains all over your body. So, that’s what I thought it was. One morning I was making breakfast for my family and the next thing I knew, I was laying in my husband’s arms and he was dialing 911. I remember seeing the black spots and sitting down; I don’t remember fainting. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth) At the hospital, they said “this happens when you are pregnant. Fainting is common.” We went on with life, thinking ... Read Full Story

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Cynthia Andresen

Survivor, Survivor

In October 2019 I had a gallbladder attack at home and fainted, resulting in liver being involved along with the gallbladder. (Sepsis and Gallstones) I had sepsis that quickly went into sepsis shock and then PSS that included hallucinations, blindness (I am legally blind but this affected the eye that I have some vision in as well). (Sepsis and Hallucinations, Sepsis and Septic Shock) When I returned home I was not well and got worse; on Christmas my brother-in-law who is a nephrologist in OR called and did not like my voice. He flew out to TN the next day ... Read Full Story

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Christina W.

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

September 2017 I went to the hospital thinking I was sick with the flu. I ended being hospitalized for 2 weeks. I had both gallstones and mono at the same time. (Sepsis and Gallstones, Sepsis and Viral Infections) The doctors didn’t realize this so I ended up with sepsis. I had 3 surgeries and was on a breathing tube twice. At one point the doctors told my family to start saying their goodbyes. Luckily the doctors finally figured out that I had those two things and were able to treat me correctly and save my life. I’m so thankful to ... Read Full Story

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Adam Pidgeon

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Tribute

On May 26th 2016 I found my son Adam lay scrunched up on his floor in the kitchen, not knowing why, I immediately started CPR while ringing the emergency services. The emergency services came and took over his treatment but after what seemed an eternity, they couldn’t bring him back. My beautiful first born son, who was 26, had died and I had no idea why. The paramedics put Adam onto his sofa and I sat there rubbing his hand kissing him and talking to him. I thought the world had ended when they took him from his flat in ... Read Full Story

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Hayley K.

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Tribute, Survivor

Monday I told my sister and best friend that I could feel myself getting sick — REALLY sick — but didn’t have any symptoms I could pin down. Thursday I visited my Rabbi to tell him that something big was coming, and I didn’t know what to do. So I just put it out there to the universe: whatever it is you need me to do, I’m ready. Friday night the epigastric pain began. Saturday I was in the ER with gallstones, potentially one stuck in my bile duct (the pancreas and gallbladder share such a duct). (Sepsis and Gallstones) ... Read Full Story

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Gallstones

Gallstones are hardened deposits that can form in your gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ found just below your liver on the right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder’s role is mainly to store bile, a digestive liquid your liver produces. The common bile duct joins the cystic duct from the gallbladder with the common hepatic duct from the liver, and runs through the pancreas. Bile flows into the gallbladder from the common hepatic duct and through the cystic duct. Sometimes the substances in the bile, particularly cholesterol, stick together to form stones of various sizes. It is possible to have gallstones and not know it, but when a stone is big enough to become stuck or lodged, it can block the flow of bile.