About 15% of Canadians over the age of 40 have gallstones. 20% of women and 10% of men have gallstones by the age of 60.
In many people, gallstones are silent and never cause symptoms or other problems.
The stones are usually made up of cholesterol, and small ones pass without problems from the gallbladder, through the bile duct, and into the duodenum, where they are broken up.
An acute gallbladder attack occurs when one or more stones block a duct, resulting in inflammation and pain.
Most attacks develop after eating a heavy, high-fat meal.
Temporary obstruction causes waves of intense in the upper right abdominal pain, often radiating upward toward the right collarbone, pain intensifies when taking a deep breath, bending, belching, abdominal bloating, sweating, nausea and vomiting are common, until the stone passes through the duct.
Most attacks subside gradually; those lasting for more than a few days points to serious complication.