Diabetes and Gallstones: Is There a Link?

Your gallbladder is pear-shaped organ that sits under your liver[1]. Its main job is to store bile, a fluid made by your liver that digests fat. When you eat food, your stomach releases a hormone that causes the muscles around the gallbladder to contract and release bile. All well and good … until you start having pain, nausea, and vomiting, and maybe even a fever or chills. While these symptoms can indicate many issues, they may point to gallstones. Learn more about gallstones and how they might be linked to diabetes.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones (cholelithiasis) are hard, pebbly-looking pieces of material that form in the gallbladder. They are usually made from cholesterol[2], bile salts, or a substance called bilirubin, which is made from the breakdown of red blood cells.

There are two main types of gallstones:

Some people have a combination of both types of stones.

Gallstones come in different sizes, ranging from miniscule like a grain of sand to the size of a golf ball. Your gallbladder might make one big gallstone, hundreds of tiny stones, or a combination of both. When gallstones block the bile ducts (the tubes that connect the liver and gallbladder to the small intestines), a serious and even life-threatening infection may occur in the bile ducts, pancreas, or liver.

To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters[3]!

What are symptoms of gallstones?

Gallstones may not cause any symptoms, at first. But if they get larger or start to block bile ducts, symptoms (often called “attacks”) may occur. These include:

Gallbladder attacks tend to occur after eating a heavy meal and usually occur in the evening or during the night. The attacks usually stop when the gallstones move and are no longer blocking the bile ducts. You can have gallstones that don’t block bile ducts, and these don’t cause symptoms. These “silent gallstones” that don’t cause symptoms don’t prevent your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas from working, so they don’t need treatment.

When should you seek medical attention right away?

If you have any of these symptoms during or after a gallbladder attack, call your doctor immediately:

These symptoms could indicate inflammation or an infection of the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas. They can also be signs of other serious conditions, such as appendicitis, ulcers, pancreatitis[4], or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

What causes gallstones?

Gallstones are formed if bile has too much cholesterol or bilirubin, or not enough bile salts, or if the gallbladder doesn’t empty as it should. Some people are more likely to have gallstones because of certain risk factors, including obesity and certain types of dieting.

What factors increase your risk of gallstones?

Gallstones affect 10% to 15% of the adult population[5]; in the U.S., 20 to 25 million people have or will have gallstones. Certain groups of people have a higher risk of getting gallstones than other people:

Also, having any of the following health conditions increases your risk of gallstones:

People with type 2 diabetes[6] may have a higher risk of gallstones if they are overweight. Also, they are more likely to have high triglycerides[7], which is a type of fat that can encourage gallstone formation. People with diabetes may have impaired gallbladder motility as well as autonomic neuropathy[8], which can promote gallstone development.

Another factor that can increase gallstone development is diet. Specifically, people who lose weight very quickly, say, from weight-loss surgery or from following a very-low-calorie diet. Weight cycling, in which you lose and regain weight repeatedly, may also lead to gallstones. Fasting can decrease gallbladder movement, leading to a high concentration of cholesterol in the bile.

How are gallstones diagnosed?

In addition to noting the presence of symptoms, your health care provider will likely review your medical and family history, and do a physical exam. They may order certain tests, such as:

How are gallstones treated?

Gallstones that are causing “attacks” and pain will likely require treatment. Treatment may include:

Can you prevent gallstones?

You can lessen the chances of having gallstones by doing the following:

Want to learn more diabetes basics? Read “Welcome to Diabetes”[16] for type 2, “Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers”[17] for type 1, and “Gestational Diabetes: Are You at Risk?”[18] for gestational diabetes.

  1. liver: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/diabetes-and-nafld/
  2. cholesterol: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/your-cholesterol-questions-answered/
  3. sign up for our free newsletters: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/newsletter/
  4. pancreatitis: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/general-health/pancreatitis-are-you-at-risk/
  5. Gallstones affect 10% to 15% of the adult population: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones/definition-facts
  6. type 2 diabetes: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/diabetes-resources/definitions/type-2-diabetes/
  7. triglycerides: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/diabetes-resources/definitions/triglycerides/
  8. autonomic neuropathy: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/news-research/2022/04/13/autonomic-neuropathy-symptoms-common-in-type-1-diabetes/
  9. high-fiber foods: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/nutrition-exercise/find-out-about-fiber-what-it-is-and-why-you-need-it/
  10. fruits: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/nutrition/fruit-nutrition-facts/
  11. vegetables: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/five-ways-cook-healthy-tasty-vegetables/
  12. whole grains: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/nutrition/whole-grain-nutrition/
  13. healthy weight: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/nutrition-exercise/seven-ways-to-lose-weight/
  14. blood sugar: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/blood-glucose-management/blood-sugar-chart/
  15. A1C levels: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/lowering-a1c-levels-naturally/
  16. “Welcome to Diabetes”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/about-diabetes/diabetes-basics/welcome-to-diabetes/
  17. “Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/about-diabetes/types-of-diabetes/type-1-diabetes-questions-and-answers/
  18. “Gestational Diabetes: Are You at Risk?”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/womens-health/gestational-diabetes-are-you-at-risk/

Source URL: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/general-health/diabetes-and-gallstones-is-there-a-link/

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.