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What are symptoms of gallstones in women?

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Quick Answer

Symptoms of gallstones in women include pain that lasts for hours in the upper abdomen and upper back as well as nausea and vomiting, according to WebMD. Other symptoms include bloating, gas, heartburn and indigestion.

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A doctor uses a variety of methods to diagnose gallstones. After performing a physical exam, the doctor may order blood tests, an ultrasound or a CT scan. Other tests such as a cholescintigraphy or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography allow medical professionals to locate gallstones and observe the gallbladder function.

In addition to the upper area of the stomach, pain caused by gallstones may also localize in the chest or right shoulder, explains the American College of Gastroenterology. Nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas and indigestion are additional symptoms of gallstones, states WebMD.

An onset of symptoms may make it difficult to breathe normally or get comfortable, although moving around does not alleviate symptoms, indicates WebMD. Pain may last up to 24 hours, although pain episodes lasting one to five hours are most common. An episode that exceeds one to two hours, or is accompanied by a fever, requires immediate medical attention, instructs the American College of Gastroenterology.

Complications associated with gallstones include blood, bile duct and gallbladder infections, notes the American College of Gastroenterology. Additional complications include jaundice of the skin and eyes, as well as inflammation of the pancreas

Physicians usually treat gallstones by removing the gallbladder, WebMD states. Most gallbladder surgeries today are performed laparoscopically, a procedure that creates small incisions that are less invasive. Most patients leave the hospital after an overnight stay. If doctors find gallstones lodged in the bile ducts, they may be removed before or after gallbladder surgery.

If a patient cannot tolerate gallbladder surgery, doctors prescribe medications that dissolve the gallstones, WebMD explains. The drawbacks of using a nonsurgical method are that the medication may take years to break down the gallstones, and they may reoccur. These medications may also cause mild diarrhea in patients.

Women between 20 and 60 years of age are three times more likely than men to develop gallstones, states the American College of Gastroenterology. Risk factors for the development of gallstones include obesity, multiple pregnancies, Hispanic or American Indian heritage, rapid weight loss, and family history of gallstones.

Many patients with gallstones have no symptoms, WebMD says. Doctors may find the condition while examining the patient for another health issue.

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