Risk Factors for Gallstones

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop gallstones with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing gallstones. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Gender and Age

Men older than the age of 60 and women between the ages of 20 and 60 are at increased risk of developing gallstones. Pregnant women are more likely to have gallstones with symptoms.

Genetics

Genetic factors play a role in gallstone disease. There is an increased risk of gallstones among first-degree relatives.

Medical Conditions

Medical conditions associated with gallstones include:

Ethnic Background

Gallstones are common in the following groups:

  • Native Americans, especially Pima Indians, who have the highest rate of gallstones in the United States
  • Mexican Americans
  • Northern Europeans

Drugs

A number of drugs are associated with gallstones. The most common are:

  • Oral contraceptives
  • Hormone replacement therapy—in postmenopausal women
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs—fibrates
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Octreotide
  • Somastatin
  • Thiazide diuretics
  • Total parenteral nutrition

Diet

The following dietary changes increase the risk of developing gallstones:

  • Rapid weight loss; which causes the liver to secrete extra cholesterol into the bile
  • Fasting; which decreases gallbladder movement, causing bile to become overly concentrated with cholesterol
  • Higher intake of trans-fatty acids
  • High-dietary glycemic index or glycemic load

Revision Information

  • Adler DG, Baron TH, et al. ASGE guideline: the role of ERCP in diseases of the biliary tract and the pancreas. Gastrointest Endosc. 2005;62:1-8.

  • Ahmed A, Cheung RC, et al. Management of gallstones and their complications. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61:1673-1678.

  • Gallstones. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 23, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2013.

  • Portincasa P, Moschetta A, et al. Cholesterol gallstone disease. Lancet. 2006;368:230-239.

  • Shaffer EA. Gallstone disease: epidemiology of gallbladder stone disease. Best Pract Res Clin Gastronenterol. 2006;20:981-996.

  • Wittenburg H, Lammert F. Genetic predisposition to gallbladder stones. Semin Liver Dis. 2007;27:109-121.