Is there a Test For gallstones At home?

Our content is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice by your doctor. Use for informational purposes only.

Currently, there is no highly specific test for gallstones that can be carried out at home. However, gallstones can be suspected based on their characteristic symptoms.

Today, you will learn (in-depth):

  • How to suspect gallstones at home before planning a visit to your doctor,
  • The difference between gallstone pain and other mimics.
  • The best diagnostic tests for gallstones,
  • and a bunch of other helpful information.

1. Is there a test for gallstones at home?

Gallstones are small stone-like structures, often made of cholesterol that forms inside your gallbladder.

They are pretty common. Studies estimate that about 10-15% of people of white adults have gallstones.

The definite diagnosis of gallstones is by visualizing it with an imaging modality (Ultrasound, CT, or MRI) that is unavailable at home.

You can only get a diagnosis of gallstones in a hospital or any other health care facility that offers any of the above imaging techniques.

Also, beware of the following facts:

  • Symptoms of gallstones (biliary colic) are only suggestive of the disease and are NOT diagnostic.
  • Also, the vast majority with gallstones don’t have any symptoms.
  • There are no home or hospital laboratory (blood or urine) tests that diagnose gallstones.
  • Laboratory tests can detect complications or risk factors of gallstones, not the gallstone itself.
  • Uncomplicated gallstones don’t cause tenderness or special signs in the gallbladder area (right upper quadrant).

So, no one (even a gastroenterologist like me) can be sure 100% of having gallstones based on symptoms, signs, or other home tests.

However, some of the following symptoms and signs are highly suggestive of gallstones more than others.

Keep reading to learn what to check for at home if you suspect gallstones.

2. What are the earliest signs of gallstones at home?

Here are the earliest signs to check for at home that may suggest the presence of gallstones.

But before diving into the details, you should understand that not all stones are created equal. There is a spectrum of symptoms.

Understanding the spectrum of gallstone symptoms:

The symptoms of gallstones can range from completely asymptomatic to life-threatening complications such as gallbladder gangrene, perforation, and sepsis.

The following are the possible scenarios for people who have gallstones (reference).

  1. Asymptomatic gallstones (cholecystolithiasis):
    The majority of gallstones don’t cause symptoms. Asymptomatic gallstones are not considered a disease unless they cause symptoms.

  2. Uncomplicated gallstone disease:
    The term refers to gallstones that cause occasional symptoms, mainly biliary colics (described below).

  3. Complicated gallstone disease:
    A minority of patients with gallstones may develop severe complications such as acute cholecystitis (obstruction & inflammation of the gallbladder), gallbladder gangrene, gallbladder perforation, and sepsis. (not our focus today).

A. Biliary colic.

Biliary colics (gallbladder pain) is often what raises the suspicion of gallstones when it occurs at home.

Fortunately, gallbladder pain has some unique characteristics (duration, site, relation to fat) that set it apart from other causes of abdominal pain. So, it can serve as a home test for gallstones if you understand it in-depth.

However, it can only suspect the presence of gallstones, and it is not diagnostic. Other gallbladder diseases and the biliary system can cause biliary colic without gallstones.

For example, patients with a condition called (sphincter of Oddi dysfunction) may have typical biliary colic without gallstones. So, depending on typical features of biliary colics as a home test for gallstone is not accurate.

Biliary colics often occurs in intermittent attacks of severe upper right abdominal pain. The attack can be very infrequent (even once every year or two), but it also can become very frequent (multiple attacks per day).

The onset of an attack is often related to large fatty meals, but it can occur sporadically.

The table below dives into all the features of typical biliary colic.

Biliary colic (Uncomplicated gallstone).Description
1. SiteUsually, The right upper quadrant of your abdomen.
2. Spread– The pain may spread to the back of the right shoulder.
– Also, it spreads to the epigastric area.
3. CharacterConstant builds up then disappears gradually.
4. DurationAt least 30 minutes. It may last up to 6 hours.
5. Relation to food– Triggered by foods (especially fatty food and large meals.
– However, it can start spontaneously.
6. NOT related to:Movement, bowel movements, or the passage of flatus.
7. NauseaOften Present, severe.
8- Commonly associated symptomsVomiting, sweating during the attack.
9. Unusual symptoms.– Heartburn and chest pain.
– Bloating, fullness.
– Early satiety.
– Isolated epigastric pain.
10. Symptoms that only present in complicated gallstone disease.– Fever.
– Jaundice.
– Prolonged pain for more than 6 hours.
– Extreme tenderness over the gallbladder (Murphy’s sign).
– Vomiting of blood, blackish stool (PUD).

B. The nausea-pain complex.

One of the most characteristic features of biliary colic is accompanying nausea.

Sudden severe nausea associated with the onset of pain is one of the most characteristic features of biliary colics that I notice in most patients.

The nausea-pain complex is a sense of impending vomiting due to extreme nausea that starts suddenly with the onset of biliary colic. Then the complex (nausea & pain) disappears completely with the resolution of the attack.

This characteristic complex of symptoms is highly suggestive of biliary colic, and it can serve as a preliminary home test when you notice the pattern of your symptom.

C. The pattern of pain spread.

The pain from the gallbladder often refers to the right shoulder blade. The association between right upper abdominal pain and right shoulder blade pain highly suggests a bad gallbladder.

Consult your doctor if you constantly experience pain at the back of your right shoulder after eating. It can be the first sign of a bad gallbladder.

Also, the gallbladder can present with epigastric (upper central) abdominal pain. The central type of pain occurs with or without right-upper abdominal pain.

3. Can you have asymptomatic gallstones? And how common are they?

Interestingly, the majority of people with gallstones don’t experience any symptoms at all.

Studies show that 10% to 20% of Americans will sometimes develop gallstones. However, up to 80% of the people with gallstones will never experience biliary pain or complications such as cholecystitis (reference).

Asymptomatic gallstones are found in (reference):

  • 5% of females aged 20-29 years.
  • 9% of females aged 30-39 years.
  • 11% of females aged 40 years or more.
  • Gallstones are rare in males aged less than 40 years. But its risk increases with age.

So, these symptoms of gallstones can be a 100% accurate test for gallstones at home.

Are you at risk of gallstones?

If you suspect gallstones, you should also check if you have any risk factors that favor getting a gallstone.

The odds of having gallstones would be greater if you have multiple risk factors and are experiencing the typical symptoms and signs explained above.

The risk factors include (reference):

  • Obesity.
  • Being a female.
  • History of rapid loss of weight.
  • Fatty or junk food.
  • Positive family history of gallstones.
  • The risk increases with age.

What is the best diagnostic test for gallstones?

Your doctor suspects gallstone disease based on the typical biliary colic. You should undergo a confirmatory test even with normal clinical examination and normal laboratory tests.

The best and the most commonly used diagnostic test is abdominal ultrasonography. Ultrasound can detect the number, the size, and any associated complications of gallstones.

If you are planning for abdominal Ultrasound, remember to be fasting for at least 8 hours for better visualization of the stone (fasting makes your gallbladder full, making it easier to see gallstones).