Gallstones are a common condition of the biliary tract of the digestive system. Gallstones are hard deposits that are similar to pebbles or stones that can develop in the gallbladder. They can be tiny, like a grain of sand, to quite large in size, such as a golf ball.
Sometimes gallstones can remain in the gallbladder or pass through the cystic duct and the common bile duct with causing any symptoms of problems. Gallstones can also become lodged within a duct and cause pain, illness and possibly complications.
The gallbladder is an organ that is a part of the digestive system and is located in the upper right side of the abdomen under the liver. The pear-shaped gallbladder is a hollow sac that concentrates and stores the digestive substance bile, which is produced by the liver.
Bile flows from the liver into the gallbladder for storage. When food is eaten, the gallbladder squeezes the stored bile into the cystic duct and down the common bile duct into the duodenum of the small intestine where bile works to help digest food.
When a gallstone or gallstones in the gallbladder cause inflammation or passes out of the gallbladder and becomes trapped or stuck in the cystic duct, it is called cholecystitis. When a gallstone or gallstones passes out of the gallbladder and becomes trapped or stuck in the common bile duct, it is called choledocholithiasis.
Gallstones that cause these conditions can result such symptoms as severe epigastric pain, abdominal pain, ride sided abdominal pain, and/or pain that radiates around the right rib cage and into the back. A commonly used general term used for the pain caused by gallstones is biliary colic. Other typical symptoms include nausea and vomiting.
Some people with gallstones may have no symptoms or problems at all. However, in some cases, gallstones can result in serious, even life-threatening complications, such as pancreatitis, biliary cirrhosis, peritonitis and cholangitis. For more information on symptoms and complications, refer to symptoms of gallstones.
Making a diagnosis of gallstones begins with taking a thorough medical history, including symptoms. A physical examination is also performed, which may reveal severe tenderness of the upper right abdomen.
Diagnostic testing may include imaging, such as ultrasound scan, which will detect and locate any gallstones. A nuclear scan called a hepatobiliary scan can check for any obstruction of the gallbladder. A CT of the abdomen may also be done.
Blood tests called liver function tests may be performed to determine the level of functioning of the liver. Blood tests may also be done to help determine the health of the pancreas, which can be seriously affected by gallstones that cause pancreatitis.
It is possible that a diagnosis of gallstones can be missed because some people have no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may be attributed to other conditions with similar symptoms. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of gallstones.
The treatment for gallstones involves a multifaceted approach. Treatment plans vary depending on the severity of the symptoms, the presence of complications, and an individual's medical history. Gallstones that are causing pain or biliary colic are treated with pain medications, and surgery may be recommended to have the gallstones and gallbladder removed. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of gallstones. ...more »
Certain chemicals form solid deposits in the gall bladder
of the bile ducts.
These can exist for years without symptoms,
but eventually can cause blockages or damage.
This can cause extreme digestive symptoms
and pain. ...more »
The types and severity of symptoms of gallstones vary between individuals depending on a variety of factors, such as where the gallstones are located and the size of the stones, and the presence of complications.
Many people have no symptoms or physical problems and may be totally unaware that they have gallstones.
When symptoms do occur they often include severe, sharp epigastric pain, ...more symptoms »
The goals of treatment of gallstones are to control symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, and minimize the risk of developing serious complications, such as pancreatitis, biliary cirrhosis, and cholangitis. The most effective treatment plan for gallstones uses a multifaceted approach and varies depending on the number and location of gallstones, the severity ...more treatments »
A diagnosis of gallstones may be delayed or missed because some symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting can attributed to many other conditions as such as gastroenteritis, heart attack, hiatal hernia, indigestion or peptic ulcer. It is important to seek prompt medical care if you experience any symptoms of gallstones and not assume that they are due to ...more misdiagnosis »
Symptoms of Gallstones
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Types of Gallstones
- Silent gallstones - unknown gallstones without symptoms
- Symptomatic gallstones - causing symptoms
- Cholesterol stones - about 80% of cases
- Pigment stones
- Mixed stones
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Article Excerpts about Gallstones
Gallstones: NIDDK (Excerpt)
Gallstones form when liquid stored in the
gallbladder hardens into pieces of stone-like material. The liquid, called
bile, is used to help the body digest fats. Bile is made in the liver,
then stored in the gallbladder until the body needs to digest fat. At that
time, the gallbladder contracts and pushes the bile into a tube—called a
duct—that carries it to the small intestine, where it helps with
Bile contains water, cholesterol, fats, bile salts, and bilirubin. Bile
salts break up fat, and bilirubin gives bile and stool a brownish color.
If the liquid bile contains too much cholesterol, bile salts, or
bilirubin, it can harden into stones.
(Source: excerpt from Gallstones: NIDDK)
Dieting and Gallstones: NIDDK (Excerpt)
Gallstones are clumps of solid material that
form in the gallbladder. They may occur as a single, large stone or many
small ones. Gallstones are a mixture of compounds, but typically they are
(Source: excerpt from Dieting and Gallstones: NIDDK)
Gallstones: NWHIC (Excerpt)
Gallstones are pieces of solid material that form in the gallbladder.
Gallstones form when substances in the bile, primarily cholesterol and
bile pigments, form hard, crystal-like particles. (Source: excerpt from Gallstones: NWHIC)
Definitions of Gallstones:
Presence or formation of GALLSTONES in the BILIARY TRACT, usually in the gallbladder (CHOLECYSTOLITHIASIS) or the common bile duct (CHOLEDOCHOLITHIASIS).
- (Source - Diseases Database)
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