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Most cases of gallstones don't cause any symptoms. But if a gallstone blocks one of the bile ducts, it can cause sudden, severe abdominal pain, known as biliary colic.
Other symptoms may develop if the blockage is more severe or develops in another part of the digestive system.
Gallstones can cause sudden, severe abdominal pain that usually lasts one to five hours (although it can sometimes last just a few minutes).
The pain can be felt:
The pain is constant and isn't relieved when you go to the toilet, pass wind or are sick. It's sometimes triggered by eating fatty foods, but may occur at any time of day and it may wake you up during the night.
Biliary colic doesn't happen often. After an episode of pain, it may be several weeks or months before you experience another episode.
Some people also have periods where they sweat excessively and feel sick or vomit.
When gallstones cause episodes of biliary colic, it is known as 'uncomplicated gallstone disease'.
In a small number of people, gallstones can cause more serious problems if they obstruct the flow of bile for longer periods or move into other organs (such as the pancreas or small bowel).
If this happens, you may develop:
Doctors refer to this more severe condition as 'complicated gallstone disease'.
Read more about the complications of gallstones.
If you think you may be experiencing biliary colic, you should make an appointment with your GP.
Contact your GP immediately for advice if you develop: