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Passing a gallstone how does it feel?

Passing gallstones is commonly accompanied by gallbladder spasms, and sharp abdominal pain that occurs in waves and may last for hours. In some cases, passing gallstones could lead to obstruction of the bile duct, and serious complications may occur. Find more about passing a gallstone how it feels, and the complications associated with gallstones in this article.

Key Facts:

  • A gallbladder attack is a condition that occurs when you are passing gallstones.
  • The gallbladder attack involves gallbladder spasm, abdominal pain that is severe, sharp pain and occurs in waves.
  • Gallstones of size less than 2 mm can pass easily without surgery with the help of diet control and medications. Also, gallstones of size 2-4 mm could pass without surgery but need long time treatments.
  • Gallstones of size larger than 7 mm, need surgical treatments.
  • Obstruction of the bile duct during gallstone passage could lead to jaundice, inflammation of your gallbladder, inflammation of the pancreas, and liver disease.
  • Studies reported an increased risk of gallbladder cancer associated with a previous history of gallstones.

How does it feel when you pass gallstones?

What happens when gallstones get stuck?

What size of gallstones need surgery?

Complication of gallstones


How does it feel when you pass gallstones?

Gallstones are usually located within your gallbladder. However, they can move from your gallbladder through your common bile duct (the duct that links your gallbladder with your intestine). The passage of the gallstones through your bile duct could occur smoothly without any problems except transit episodic pain.

However, when gallstones get stuck in your bile duct, it blocks the flow of bile. This leads to the following (Ref):

  • Spasm in your gallbladder.
  • Sharp pain under the ribcage in the upper side or center of your abdomen.
  • Sometimes the pain radiates in the right arm or shoulder blade.
  • The pain is sharp and comes in waves.
  • The pain could last for several hours.
  • Also, the pain is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
  • This gallbladder attack is decreased when the stones are passed.
  • Sometimes the gallbladder attack ends up in an emergency room.

What happens when gallstones get stuck?

In some cases, gallstones are stuck within your bile duct and this could evoke gastrointestinal problems.

If these stones are stuck for a prolonged period they can obstruct the bile duct and prevent the flow of bile secretions.  Consequently, bile is backed up into the nearby organs and could lead to the following:


It means an increase in the bilirubin levels in your blood and is manifested by the yellow color of your skin, the witness of your eyes, and the mucous membrane also turning yellow.


It means infection and inflammation of your gallbladder tissue secondary to duct obstruction. It is accompanied by severe stray pain in your upper-right abdomen that radiates to the right shoulder or back, and tenderness in your abdomen when you touch or press it. Also, sweating, nausea, and vomiting could occur and may last for a long time.


If gallstones passing from your gallbladder are stuck and block the pancreatic duct, this will lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

This is commonly associated with upper abdominal pain that could radiate to the back and tender abdomen. The pain increase after eating. Nausea and vomiting may also result.

Liver diseases

If the gallstones blocked the passage of the bile, this could lead to your bile back up to your liver. As a result, liver inflammation and an increased risk of infection may occur.


If gallstones block the passage of the bile and prevent delivery of bile to the intestine, you may suffer from difficulty in breaking down your ingested food, especially fatty foods. Therefore, you could have a problem in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins K, E, D, and A from your intestine.

What size of gallstones requires surgery?

Gallstones vary in size from a grain of sand to the size of a golf ball.

The passing of gallstones through the bile duct depends on the size of the stones.

Gallstones less than 2 mm may pass through the bile duct with diet control and medications.

Also, gallstones of size range from 2-4 mm may pass through your bile duct without surgery with the help of diet and medication but it may take a longer duration compared with gallstones of size less than 2 mm.

In case you have gallstones larger than 4 mm, surgery is required to remove these large stones

What are the complications of gallstones?

Untreated gallstones may lead to serious health problems including the following (Ref):

Gallstones ileus:

Simply, gallstones ileus means mechanical gastrointestinal obstruction by gallstones.

It is an infrequent complication of gallstones due to the stuck of one or more gallstones in your intestine.

In the United States, only 0.095% of mechanical bowel obstruction cases were caused by a gallstone from 2004 to 2009 (Ref).

The incidence of gallstones ileus increase among elder patients. In the USA, it is more common among patients of age 60-85 years old.

In addition, as gallstones are more common among females than males, thus, gallstones ileus is more common among females than male patients.

Gallstones ileus is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, crampy abdominal pain, constipation, swelling, and distension (Ref).

The obstruction of the bowel needs immediate treatment. If not treated, a rupture of the bowel may occur and infection spreading may result.

Gallbladder cancer:

Cancer in the gallbladder is a rare complication of gallstones. However, studies showed that a previous history of gallstones increases your risk to have gallbladder cancer (Ref).

About 4 out of 5 patients with gallbladder cancer were reported to have a history of gallstones.

A study published in the Journal of Surgical Oncology showed that 93 cases of 125 selected cases were found to have gallstones associated with gallbladder cancer.

Symptoms of gallbladder cancer are similar to those observed with gallstones. This includes:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Fever
  • Jaundice

Gallbladder perforation:

The untreated gallstones may become larger in size with time. The larger stones could perforate the wall of your gallbladder making a hole in its wall.

The perforation in your gallbladder wall could allow the speed of infection into other parts of your body leading to widespread severe infection.


1. Do gallstones pass at night?

Gallbladder attacks commonly occur after you have a heavy meal usually in the evening or during the night. In case you have one attack, this is probably will be followed by more attacks (Ref).

The pain of a gallbladder attack is located in a defined area with a point of maximum intensity that may last for more than one hour.

2. Are gallstones hard or soft?

Gallstones are solid hard deposits usually made of cholesterol or bilirubin.

They are pebble-like in shape that ranges in size from a grain of sand to the size of a golf ball.

You may have one large stone, many tiny stones, or a combination of large and small stones at the same time.

3. Can you pass a 2 cm gallstone?

Probably yes, you can pass a 2mm gallstone without surgery.

Passing gallstones depends basically on their size. Increasing the size of gallstones means it may take a long duration to pass even with the help of diet and medications.

4. Is a 14 mm gallstone need surgery?

Yes, a 14 mm gallstone needs surgery.

Gallstones of larger size have a very low chance to pass through the bile duct. In this case, larger stones can not be healed with medication and surgical removal is the best choice.