Gallbladder Stones

Overview:

The gallbladder is a small sac that sits under the liver and stores bile after it is produced by the liver.

After a meal, the gallbladder contracts and empties bile through the cystic duct (tube) and bile ducts into the small intestine to help digest fats.

Gallstones are formed in the gallbladder from cholesterol and other material found in bile. A high concentration of cholesterol in bile and conditions such as pregnancy, which interfere with normal gallbladder emptying, promote gallstone formation.

Gallstones may be tiny or as large as a golf ball.

Symptoms

Gallstones are quite common and most people will have no symptoms.

When gallstones obstruct the flow of bile from the gallbladder, pain will occur. The pain can be quite severe and is typically located in the right upper abdomen. The pain may travel into the right shoulder blade. These attacks are often associated with nausea and vomiting and typically occur after eating, particularly fatty meals. Most attacks will resolve within hours.

Other complications from gallstones including cholecystitis, common bile duct stones, and pancreatitis, are discussed separately.

Testing

Gallstones can easily be diagnosed by an ultrasound test of the gallbladder.

Treatment

Gallstones that do not cause symptoms require no treatment. When symptoms are present, the gallbladder should be removed surgically.

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