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Epidemiology of and risk factors for gallstones

Nezam H Afdhal, MD, FRCPI
Section Editor
Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP
Deputy Editor
Anne C Travis, MD, MSc, FACG, AGAF


Gallstone disease is one of the most common and costly of all digestive diseases. The third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 6.3 million men and 14.2 million women aged 20 to 74 in the United States had gallbladder disease [1].

Over the past two decades, a great deal has been learned about the epidemiology of and risk factors for gallstones (table 1). Ultrasonography has played a major role in this process, providing a rapid, risk-free method of screening large populations. Prior to the availability of ultrasound, most studies relied on highly selective autopsy data and limited oral cholecystography.


Epidemiologic data are available from a number of large European and American populations (table 2). These studies have revealed a marked variation in overall gallstone prevalence between different ethnic populations. As a general rule, there appears to be higher rates of cholelithiasis in Western Caucasian, Hispanic, and Native American populations and lower rates in Eastern European, African American, and Japanese populations [2-18].

In the United States, the age standardized prevalence of gallbladder disease was estimated based upon a sample of more than 14,000 persons aged 20 to 74 in whom gallbladder disease was detected by the presence of gallstones or cholecystectomy on ultrasonography [1]. The following prevalence rates were observed:

8.6 and 16.6 percent among non-Hispanic white men and women, respectively


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Dec 1, 2015.
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