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What are "gallstones"?

Facts About Gallstones

Siamak Tabib (Gastroenterologist, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA) gives expert video advice on: What causes gallstones?; What is the treatment for gallstones? and more...

What are "gallstones"?

Gallstones are small stones that form within the gallbladder. These stones generally are either made up of cholesterol stones or bile-type stones. Gallstones can be very small, like gravel or sludge, or sometimes they can be very large, such as the size of a golf ball or a ping pong ball.

What is "bile"?

Bile is the liquid that is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder that our body needs in order to be able to digest fat.

What causes gallstones?

Gallstones are usually caused by bile that is not moving too well within the gall bladder. Certain formations of bile can, through time, promote the formation of more solid states, eventually leading to stones. These include: bile that has higher cholesterol, and bile that has higher pigment from breakdown of, for example, red cells in the body.

How are gallstones diagnosed?

Gallstones are usually diagnosed by the type of pain that they cause, which usually is severe pain encountered mostly after eating; especially after eating fatty type foods. The location of this pain can be in the mid to upper abdomen, more towards the right side, and under the rib. Occasionally, gallstones can be associated with nausea or vomiting. Certainly on examination, we can palpate, or feel, the edge of the gallbladder, and by pressing on that area we can appreciate a very typical type of pain. Ultimately, an ultrasound or any other imaging modality can be used to actually image the stones within the gallbladder.

What is the treatment for gallstones?

The treatment for gallstones really centres around whether the stones are causing symptoms or not. A lot of us can have gallstones but really have no symptoms from these stones whatsoever. In this situation, we usually don't recommend any treatment. However; if stones are causing pain, discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or potentially causing a blockage from the canals leading the gallbladder down into the small intestine, then they need to be taken care of. Usually surgery to remove the gallbladder is the recommended means of treatment.

Do I need my gallbladder?

Gallbladder surgery is a very common surgery, and we generally do not need our gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ that is there to store bile. It's a storage facility for our body. When the gallbladder is removed for various reasons (including gallstones that can cause pain) the bile duct, or the canal that connects the gall bladder to the small intestine which bile travelled through, then becomes the new storage facility.