Gallstones are pieces of solid digestive fluid that form in the gallbladder, a pear-shaped organ under the liver. The gallbladder's job is to store bile, a fluid made by the liver to digest fat. As the stomach and intestines digest food, the gallbladder releases bile through a tube called the common bile duct. Gallstones form when substances such as cholesterol in the bile harden, and depending on their size – they range from the size of a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball – may block the bile duct. They also may form if the gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough.

Gallstones usually form after eating, and while many cause no symptoms, others may cause pain in the upper right abdomen, the center of the breastbone, between the shoulder blades, or in the right shoulder. The pain can last a few minutes to several hours. Many people refer to this as a "gallbladder attack." Gallstones often are found while being examined for another illness. Gallstones may be hereditary, and some groups of people are more prone to gallstones, including women and older adults, the obese, those with high hormone levels, diabetics, and those taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.



UAB Medicine is known worldwide as a leading center for digestive and liver disorders. Our gastroenterology and gastrointestinal (GI) surgery program is consistently recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report. We see more than 20,000 patients and perform more than 12,000 outpatient procedures each year.

UAB has a notable history in this medical specialty. Basil Hirschowitz, MD – who founded our program more than 50 years ago – was the inventor of the endoscope, a tubular, flexible instrument equipped with a tiny camera that is used to look deep inside the body. His invention revolutionized gastroenterology and GI surgery care. Our interventional endoscopy group, which includes endoscopic ultrasound technology, is one of the busiest in the country and has grown to become one of the most respected programs of its kind.

UAB continues to lead the advancement of gastroenterology with many active research trials that offer the latest in drug therapy and treatment for digestive disorders. Our physicians and scientists are searching for causes and cures for many illnesses through basic research, including studies of the bacteria that inhabit our intestines and affect our health.

UAB Medicine operates the Digestive Health Center, which combines gastroenterology care, GI surgery, and a broad range of advanced diagnostic and supportive services in a single, convenient location for our patients. The center features specialists in gastroenterology and hepatology, colorectal surgery, transplant surgery, and nutrition, all of whom work together to form a diverse team of digestive health experts. The Digestive Health Center provides a fully integrated model of care that optimizes the patient experience and offers the absolute latest in testing, technology, and treatment.





UAB is an active participant in research and clinical trials for Gallstones. We encourage you to speak to your physician about research and clinical trial options and browse the link below for more information.

View Clinical Trials