Gallstones vs. Kidney Stones: Differences and Causes
Kidney stones are hard, mineral-based formations that develop in the kidneys or urinary tract. In contrast, gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid in the gallbladder.
Most kidney stones are calcium oxalate or uric acid stones, while gallstones typically contain cholesterol and bilirubin.
Let’s look at the different causes of gallstones vs kidney stones and what steps you can take to prevent these organ stones.
What are gallstones?
Gallstones are hard stone-like lumps that develop in the gallbladder or bile ducts. Most gallstones are composed of cholesterol and bilirubin or are hardened calcium carbonate deposits.
One or more stones can form in the gallbladder, and their size can vary from small rocks the size of a peppercorn to larger stones measuring up to two inches in diameter.
Conventional treatment typically includes prescription medication to dissolve the stones and pain medication to manage discomfort.
What causes gallstones?
Around 80 percent of gallstones develop due to low bile flow causing highly concentrated gallbladder content, which can crystalize and form pebble-like deposits.
Bile is a vitally important fluid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It plays a crucial role in digestion, liver function, and detoxification.
Liver damage, fatty liver disease, and a low-fat diet can lead to low bile flow, which causes saturated bile and increases the risk of gallstones.
In addition, a study published in Gut found that high insulin levels—a result of a high-carb diet—can interfere with gallbladder muscle contraction and the formation of gallstones.
Other factors contributing to the development of gallstones include birth control pills, rapid weight loss, blood disorders, and genetic predisposition.
Gallbladder stone pain is often described as a dull ache or pressure in the upper right abdomen and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, chills, and jaundice.
Some individuals also experience sudden pain in the upper right back and neck, which can be caused by gallstones and gallbladder inflammation.
Gallbladder stone symptoms can be persistent or infrequent and often worsen after eating fatty or greasy foods.
Best remedies for gallstones
A balanced diet rich in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates, such as Healthy Keto®, promotes normal bile flow and can prevent the saturation of digestive fluids and the formation of gallstones.
However, if you are prone to gallstones or experience sluggish digestion, you may benefit from taking a bile salt supplement. Bile salts support gallbladder function and keep bile soluble and thin, significantly lowering the risk of gallstone formation.
It’s also important to avoid supplements that contain calcium carbonate, a cheap elemental form of calcium that, combined with poor liver function, can cause calcium stones in the gallbladder.
“I don’t recommend taking calcium supplements due to the increased risk of arterial calcification and other issues, including gallstones,” says Dr. Berg. “To maintain healthy calcium levels, it’s best to focus on calcium-rich foods instead.”
Watch the video below to learn more about why gallbladder and kidney stones develop.
What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones, or renal calculi, are hard deposits of minerals and salts inside the kidneys or urinary tract.
They can vary in size and shape, ranging from the size of a small grain of sand to larger kidney stones the size of a golf ball.
There are several different types of kidney stones, including:
Calcium oxalate stones
Uric acid stones
Small kidney stones may pass on their own, and symptoms can be managed by taking pain medication. However, larger stones may require invasive surgery or shock wave therapy to break up and dissolve hardened depositions.
What causes kidney stones?
Kidney stones form when urine becomes too concentrated and minerals and other urinary compounds, such as calcium, oxalate, and uric acid, crystallize and stick together.
Weak kidney function, dehydration, and excessive intake of foods high in oxalates—including spinach, tea, almonds, and beet tops—can lead to kidney stone formation.
Individuals with hyperparathyroidism, obesity, or a family history of kidney stones are at an increased risk of developing kidney stones.
Kidney stone symptoms
The signs and symptoms of kidney stones depend on the size and location of the stone. While some people may have no symptoms, others experience severe pain and discomfort.
Common symptoms of kidney stones include:
Pain in the back or side
Frequent need to urinate
Bloody or foul-smelling urine
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
Best remedies for kidney stones
Staying hydrated to avoid highly concentrated urine is one of the most effective ways to lower your risk of kidney stones.
Consuming plenty of lemons or drinking lemon water can help to eliminate and prevent kidney stones due to lemon’s high citrate content.
According to research published in the Korean Journal of Urology, “Citrate binds with urinary calcium, thereby reducing the supersaturation of urine. In addition, it binds calcium oxalate crystals and prevents crystal growth”.
If you have poor kidney function, you may also benefit from limiting your intake of oxalate-rich foods to prevent kidney stones.
Gallstones and kidney stones may have similar symptoms but are caused by different factors.
Gallstones are a result of poor bile flow and sluggish gallbladder function. Taking ox bile supplements and consuming a diet rich in healthy fats can help to lower the risk of hardened deposits in the gallbladder.
In contrast, kidney stones are typically a result of dehydration and poor kidney function. Staying hydrated, regularly consuming citrate-rich foods such as lemons, and avoiding excessive intake of oxalates can be beneficial and may help to prevent kidney stones.
1. How do I know if I have gallstones or kidney stones?
Gallstones and kidney stones can have similar symptoms. However, gallbladder stones typically trigger discomfort in the upper right abdomen, which can radiate to the back and between the shoulder blades.
Pain associated with kidney stones is typically located on the side, below the ribs, and often radiates to the lower abdomen or groin area.
2. Which pain is worse: gallstones or kidney stones?
While both types of stones can cause severe pain and discomfort, kidney stones are typically more painful than gallstones.
3. Can gallstones be confused with kidney stones?
Yes, it’s possible to confuse gallstones and kidney stones as they can cause similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
4. What does passing a gallstone feel like?
Passing a gallstone can be a very painful experience. A gallstone passing through the bile duct can cause sharp, intense pain in the upper right or center of the abdomen.
However, not everyone with gallstones will experience symptoms, and passing very small stones may go unnoticed.
5. What does passing a kidney stone feel like?
Some people describe passing a kidney stone as one of the most painful experiences in their life.
A passing kidney stone can trigger severe pain in the side and lower abdomen and is usually accompanied by other symptoms, including painful urination or an inability to urinate.
6. How can I reduce the risk of kidney stones?
Staying hydrated is the best way to prevent urine from becoming too concentrated, which is the leading cause of kidney stones.
Consuming plenty of fresh lemon juice and avoiding excessive intake of oxalate-rich foods also can lower your risk of developing kidney stones.
7. How can I reduce the risk of gallstones?
Avoiding a low-fat diet and supplements containing calcium carbonate has been found to lower the risk of gallstones.
In addition, taking purified ox bile supports gallbladder health and promotes thin bile flow, which helps to prevent saturated gallbladder content and gallstones.
8. What is gallbladder sludge?
Gallbladder sludge is a thick, highly saturated mixture of bile, cholesterol, and other substances that accumulate in the gallbladder.
Bile sludge can lead to gallstone formation and often is caused by poor liver function, rapid weight loss, a low-fat diet, and certain medications.
9. What causes gallstones?
Gallstones are typically a result of poor bile flow or lack of bile production. Liver disease, a high-carb diet, hormonal imbalance, and genetic predisposition are often underlying causes for the development of gallstones.
10. What causes kidney stones?
Poor kidney function and dehydration can lead to highly concentrated urine and mineral crystallization. These crystals can bind together, forming hardened deposits that develop into kidney stones.
11. Are kidney stones and gallstones caused by the same thing?
No, kidney stones and gallstones are not caused by the same thing.
A lack of adequate bile flow typically causes gallstones. Kidney stones, on the other hand, are hardened deposits of minerals and other compounds that develop due to poor kidney function and highly concentrated urine.