Expert care in digestive health

Gallstones

Gallstones are small stones that are performed inside the gallbladder. These gallstones may clog up the opening of the gallbladder or irritate the lining of the gallbladder causing severe inflammation called cholecystitis which in layman terms is a “gallbladder attack”. Sometimes the stones can cause blockage of the bile duct causing backup of the bile into the liver and serious infection.

 

Who gets gallstones?

Anyone can have gallstones. Some people are most likely to get them-

 

  • Women, especially those who have been pregnant
  • People who are overweight
  • People who have lost weight quickly (example, after a weight loss surgery)
  • People of American Indian or Hispanic descent
  • People who eat a high-fat diet

How do gallstones form?

The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid made by the liver. The bile helps digest fat in our diet. If the bile is too thick or if there is imbalance in the chemicals that make up the bile, gallstones can form.

Common symptoms of gallstones

When stones remain in the gallbladder, you may or may not have any symptoms. If stones pass out of the gallbladder, they can cause pain or infection.

An illustration of a human silhouette with a gallbladder and its surrounding organs. An inset shows the gallbladder with gallstones inside of it and gallstones blocking the bile ducts.

Not all people who have gallstones would have symptoms. Common symptoms include the following-

  • Frequent stomach upset, burping or bloating
  • Mild to severe pain in the upper abdomen
  • Fever, nausea or vomiting
  • Jaundice

What diagnostic tests are needed?

Ultrasound/sonogram of the gallbladder is probably the best test to detect gallstones. The stones can also be detected when you have a routine x-ray or a CT scan of the abdomen.

What is the treatment for gallstones?

Gallstones are treated only if you have symptoms. Removing the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is the best way to remove the gallstones. Although there are medications available to dissolve the stones, they are not very effective. Sometimes, you may need a procedure called ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) where a thin tube with the video camera is passed through the mouth to access the bile duct to remove the stones if they’re blocking the bile duct.

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