Gallstones vs Kidney Stones: Differences and Similarities

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Gallstones vs Kidney Stones: Differences and Similarities



Updated on January 11, 2024

Medically verified by Dr. Arya

Fact checked by Dr. Pournami

Gallstones vs Kidney Stones: Differences


7 min read

Have you heard about gallstones and ever got confused with kidney stones? If yes, you’re not alone.

There are many who tend to mix gallstones and kidney stones up, despite the two being completely different disorders.

But, there are significant differences between the two in terms of signs, causes and treatment. And it is essential for you to understand these differences to be able to detect both these conditions at the right time.

The only similarities between the two are that both kidney stones and gallstones are frequent medical disorders, can be extremely painful and result in the formation of tiny stones.

Let’s dive deep and understand what they are and their differences.

Gallstones: What Are They?

Digestive fluid deposits in your gallbladder develop into gallstones. While some people may acquire multiple gallstones at once, others may only have one at a time. Gallstones can form in different sizes.

You may have gallstones in the size of a golf ball while others can have tiny stones. What causes gallstones to develop is not always clear. Want to know about the most common reasons? Here they are

Abnormal gallbladder emptying: Your bile may get extremely concentrated if your gallbladder doesn't empty frequently enough or at all. (Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder.) Gallbladder crystal development may result from this.

Excessive cholesterol in bile: If your liver produces more cholesterol than your bile can absorb, the extra bile can turn into crystals. Gallstones may eventually grow from those crystals.

High levels of bilirubin in the bile: When your body breaks down red blood cells, bilirubin is produced. There are medical diseases that cause your liver to produce too much bilirubin. Gallstone formation may result from this.

Kidney stones: What Are They?

Chemicals in the urine can cause kidney stones. When there is insufficient liquid present or excessive waste in urine, chemicals have the potential to join together and form crystals. If the kidneys are unable to eliminate them, these crystals have a tendency to attract other elements and develop as kidney stones.

Kidney stones come in four main varieties:

Calcium stones: The most prevalent kind of kidney stone is calcium. Usually, dietary causes, excessive vitamin D levels, metabolic problems, or gastric bypass surgery are the causes for them.

Struvite stones: Struvite stones are formed due to urinary tract infection.

Uric acid: Inadequate absorption or fluid loss from constant diarrhoea are the usual causes of uric acid stones. Diabetes, certain metabolic conditions, and a high-protein diet can also cause them to develop.

Cystine: People having cystinuria, a hereditary disorder that can develop cystine stones.

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Gallstones v/s Kidney Stones: Identifying The Differences

Gallstones and kidney stones are two completely different types of conditions. They cause different symptoms, damage different organs, and have different causes.

Kidney stones develop inside the kidneys and are frequently related to dietary and hydration issues. Gallstones are usually related to liver function and general digestive health. They are named gallstones because they originate in the gallbladder.

What Are The Symptoms of Gallstones?

Gallstones can occur without causing any symptoms at all. But, gallstones may block ducts when they get stuck in them. That’s when certain symptoms show up, like :

  • Feeling sick
  • Nausea
  • A severe, increasing pain in the upper right section of your stomach
  • A sudden, worsening pain in the centre of the stomach
  • Pain between your shoulder blades
  • Pain in the right shoulder.

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?

The symptoms of the kidney stones depend on the size of the stones. Larger kidney stones usually result in more serious symptoms. Some of the common kidney stones signs that you must be aware of are:

  • Severe lower back pain
  • Blood in the urine
  • Side or lower abdominal pain
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Fever and chills
  • Feeling sick and vomiting

Treatment for Gallstones

Treatment for gallstones is only necessary if they are causing symptoms. Your doctor may often advise you to keep an eye out for any symptoms that may indicate a need for medical attention. Want to know about the treatment options? Here you go:

Medications dissolving gallstones: Gallstones can occasionally be dissolved with prescription drugs. These medications can take months to start working and don't always offer a permanent solution.

Gallbladder removal surgery: As gallstones often return, surgery to remove the gallbladder may be a suitable option for those with significant symptoms. Your gallbladder removal won't have any negative effects on your health.

Kidney Stone Treatment

The size of the kidney stone determines the duration of treatment. You may be asked to drink a lot of water if you have tiny kidney stones. This can help in the kidneys' natural stone removal.

In other cases, using a prescribed medication can help lower the acidity of your urine. It makes the passing of stones easier. Surgery may be necessary for larger stones that are causing significant symptoms.

Some of the surgical treatment options are:

Shock-wave lithotripsy: This method breaks up the stones by using sound waves. After that, they can flush out through the urine.

Ureteroscopy: Ureteroscopy removes kidney stones by putting a narrow instrument called an endoscope through the urethra.

Nephrolithotomy: In order to remove stones, this surgery makes a pathway from the kidney to the skin.

Factors That Put You At Risk for Gallstones

Your risk of gallstones is increased by a number of factors. Some of them are:

  • Obesity
  • Being female
  • Family history of gallstones
  • Consumption of a high cholesterol diet
  • Consumption of a low fibre diet
  • Being 40+
  • Consumption of a high fat diet
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease

Risk Factors for Kidney Stones

There are several factors that can increase your risk for kidney stones. These include:

  • Dehydration
  • Previous experience of kidney stones
  • A family history of kidney stones
  • Warm and dry climate environment
  • High protein diet
  • Obesity
  • High sodium diet
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Having inflammatory bowel disease & chronic diarrhoea
  • Experiencing constant urinary tract infections
  • Hyperparathyroidism, renal tubular acidosis, and cystinuria
  • Taking certain medications for migraine and antidepressants

Outlook for Gallstone Sufferers

Gallstones recur frequently. Nonetheless, most gallstones show no symptoms. Moreover, it may not require medical attention. If the gallstones cause constant symptoms, gallbladder surgery can be performed. A reliable and long-lasting method of preventing consistent gallstones is gallbladder removal surgery.

Outlook for Kidney Stone Sufferers

Usually, kidney stones respond well to treatment. But kidney stone patients are more likely to experience another kidney stone. Additionally, the chance of chronic kidney failure is higher. Talking to your doctor about your risk is a good idea if you've ever had a kidney stone. They can help you determine the steps you can take to help reduce your risk of future kidney complications.

Gallstones v/s Kidney stones at a glance

FeatureGallstonesKidney Stones
OriginOriginate in the gallbladderDevelop inside the kidneys
Related OrgansGallbladder and bile ductsKidneys
SymptomsFeeling sick, Nausea, Upper right stomach pain, Centre stomach pain, Pain between shoulder blades, Right shoulder painSevere lower back pain, Blood in urine, Side or lower abdominal pain, Increased urination frequency, Fever and chills, Nausea and vomiting
Treatment OptionsMedications dissolving gallstones, Gallbladder removal surgeryIncreased water intake, Medications to lower urine acidity Shock-wave, lithotripsy, Ureteroscopy, Nephrolithotomy
Risk FactorsObesity, Female gender, Family history, High cholesterol diet, Low fibre diet, Age 40+, High fat diet Diabetes, Liver diseaseDehydration, Previous kidney stones, Family history, Warm climate, High protein diet, Obesity, High sodium diet, Gastric bypass surgery, Inflammatory bowel disease, Chronic diarrhoea, Urinary tract infections - Certain medications
OutlookRecurrence is common Often asymptomatic, Gallbladder removal surgery for persistent symptomsRespond well to treatment, Higher likelihood of recurrence Increased risk of chronic kidney failure
Key Takeaways

Kidney stones and gallstones are two frequent medical disorders with similar names.

Digestive fluid deposits in your gallbladder develop into gallstones.

Kidney stones come in four main varieties such as calcium stones, struvite stones, uric acid and cystine stones.

Gallstones treatments include medications to dissolve them and gallbladder removal surgery.

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