​​Gallstones ​


Your liver produces bile, which is a digestive fluid that helps to break down fatty foods. This bile is stored in your gallbladder. Bile contains cholesterol, bile salts and waste products. You may develop gallstones in your gallbladder if the balance of these substances is disturbed and your liver makes more cholesterol or salts than the bile can dissolve. 

Many of the risk factors for gallstones have to do with your diet. For instance, obesity, having a diet that consists of high fat and cholesterol, or losing weight rapidly in a short period of time may put you at greater risk of developing gallstones. Other risk factors include genetics, gender (women are more prone to gallstones), and age (more common amongst older people). 

Gallstones can present in a number of ways. These can be found incidentally on ultrasound done for some other reason while or they can result into a life threatening episode of inflammation of pancreas. There are a large variety of presentations in between the two extremes. 

You may not experience any symptoms, if you have developed gallstones. However, if you do experience the symptoms, you may report of the following:

  • Severe pain in the right abdominal side, with nausea and vomiting. The pain may last for a few minutes or can persist up to a few hours​​.

  • Yellowish discoloration of eyes with or without fever

  • Other gastrointestinal troubles, such as bloating, gas and heartburn

You should make an appointment with your doctor working with the GI and Surgery Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital if you have any of the symptoms that you are concerned about. However, you should seek immediate care if you experience any symptoms that indicate serious complications due to gallstones, such as:  

  • High fever

  • Chills 

  • Skin or eyes that start to turn yellow 

  • Intense abdominal pain, which makes it difficult to sit still or sit comfortably

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.

Your doctor may carry out a number of diagnostic tests if he or she suspects that your symptoms are indicative of gallstones. They will usually start with a physical examination to see if you have any observable symptoms, such as yellowing of the eyes or skin. Other diagnostic tests could include:

  • Blood tests – E​specially liver function tests​, to see if there are any indications of infections or obstruction, as well as to rule out other possible diseases

  • Ultrasound – This will provide images or different parts of your body and can help to identify gallstones.

  • Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) – this diagnostic test uses radio wave energy and a magnetic field in order to create images of the inside structures of your body, such as your gallbladder and liver. This is used to detect stones​​​ in the bile duct. 

  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – This describes a procedure where your doctor inserts an endoscope through your mouth and down the small intestine. He or she then injects a yellow die which enables the bile ducts to become more visible. This is usually done to remove the stone from bile duct evident by your blood test, ultrasound and/or MRCP.  

Gallstones are often treated by the surgical removal of the gallbladder. This procedure is known as cholecystectomy​.

The two types of a cholecystectomy are laparoscopic cholecystectomy and open cholecystectomy. 

  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy – This procedure involves surgical instruments, a light, and a camera (laparoscopes). This camera is connected to a video monitor that enables your surgeon to look inside your body by making multiple incisions, and assists them in the removal of your gall bladder. After the surgery, you will rest overnight at the hospital. This is the more preferred type of cholecystectomy surgery.

  • Open cholecystectomy – You will usually need to spend a few days in the hospital following this type of surgery.  In some instances where complications arise, your surgeon may find that this as the most appropriate surgery for you, such as if your gallbladder is found to be too diseased to remove safely though a laparoscopic operation. 

Please click here​ for some guidelines on “what to do before your surgery”.

Please click here​ for some guidelines on “what to do on the day of your surgery”.

Both laparoscopic and open cholecystectomies tend to be safe procedures which carry low risk and low chances of complications. Very rarely if complications do arise, they may include:

  • Injury to the bile duct

  • Bile leaking to your abdominal cavity

  • Internal bleeding 

  • Injuries to your liver, small intestines or major adnominal blood vessels

  • Pneumonia or blood clots which could be associated to the longer recovery period with open surgery

  • Risks associated with general anesthesia, such as pain, bloating, gas or diarrhea

Please click here​ for some guidelines on “what to do after your surgery”

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe​​ reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​




The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.