Gallstones vs kidney stones: Symptoms, differences and treatment

Gallstones and kidney stones can cause a lot of pain. Though the two can be influenced by dietary factors, there are differences between gallstones and kidney stones.

The main function of gallbladder, a small organ in your upper right abdomen, is to store bile. It is a liquid produced by your liver that aids in digesting fat. Kidney is also an important organ as it filters waste and toxic matter from your blood, and it turns that into urine. If you are not careful about your or your family’s diet, stones in these two organs may get developed. The stones can vary in size, with some being as small as a grain of sand or a pea or as big as a golf ball. Even though they are stones, there are differences between gallstones and kidney stones.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder, which is located beneath the liver, says gastroenterologist Dr Rajan Dhingra. They are typically formed when bile, which aids in digestion, contains too much cholesterol or bilirubin. Other factors that contribute to gallstone formation include obesity, rapid weight loss, a high-fat diet, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes and liver disease.

Burger and hot dog
A high-fat diet can lead to gallstones. Image courtesy: Freepik

Here are symptoms of gallstones:

  • Severe abdominal pain, particularly in the upper right portion of the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are hard deposits that form in the kidneys, often composed of minerals such as calcium, oxalate, and uric acid, says the expert. These stones may cause severe pain while passing through the urinary tract. Kidney stones are formed when urine contains high levels of certain substances, such as calcium, oxalate, and uric acid, which can crystalize and form stones. Obesity, dehydration, eating salt and animal protein in excess, and medical conditions such as hyperparathyroidism and urinary tract infections, can increase the risk of formation of kidney stones.

The symptoms of kidney stones include:

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  • Intense pain in the back, abdomen, or groin
  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine

What are the similarities between gallstones and kidney stones?

It has been found that gallstones may increase the risk of developing kidney stones, according to a 2014 study published in the QJM: An International Journal of Medicine. Researchers followed 25,258 people with gallstone (54.5 percent were women) and 101,029 patients without gallstones. They found that the risk of developing kidney stones was 1.68-fold greater in people with gallstone in comparison to those without gallstones.

The two may be linked, so here are some similarities between gallstones and kidney stones:

1. The way the stones are formed

Both gallstones and kidney stones are formed from crystalized substances in the body, such as cholesterol in the case of gallstones and calcium, oxalate, or uric acid in the case of kidney stones.

2. Severe pain

Both the conditions can cause severe pain in different body parts. They often require medical intervention for getting relief, says Dr Dhingra.

3. Diet

Both gallstones and kidney stones can be influenced by dietary factors such as a high-fat diet for gallstones, and a diet high in salt and animal protein for kidney stones.

4. Complications

If they are not treated on time then they can lead to complications. There can be infections or blockages in the urinary or biliary tract.

5. Surgery

Both gallstones and kidney stones may require surgical removal if they cause severe symptoms. If the size is big then also a surgery will be needed.

What are the differences between kidney stones and gallstones?

There are similarities between the two, but there are also differences between kidney stones and gallstones.

1. Location

Both the stones are formed in different organs. Gallstones form in the gallbladder, while kidney stones form in the kidneys.

2. Symptoms

Gallstones typically cause abdominal pain, nausea, and jaundice, while kidney stones cause abdominal, groin or back pain, frequent urination, and blood in pee.

Woman experiencing back pain
Kidney stones can cause back pain. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Composition

Gallstones are primarily composed of cholesterol or bilirubin, while kidney stones are composed of minerals such as calcium, oxalate, or uric acid.

4. Risk factors

Risk factors for gallstones include obesity, rapid weight loss and a high-fat diet, while risk factors for kidney stones include dehydration, a diet high in salt and animal protein, and certain medical conditions such as hyperparathyroidism.

5. Treatment options

Treatment options for gallstones may include medications to dissolve the stones or surgical removal of the gallbladder. As for treatment options for kidney stones, they may include pain management with medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), increased fluid intake, or procedures such as lithotripsy or surgical removal of the stones.

Diet plays a key role in preventing the formation of these stones, so eat and encourage your family members to consume a balanced diet.