The gallbladder is a small sac located near the liver whose purpose is to
store bile. Bile is necessary to digest fats and the gallbladder serves as a
holding tank for the bile until it is needed, at which point it moves into
the small intestine via the common bile duct and cystic duct. Gallstones can
develop in the gallbladder and are made up of cholesterol and/or bilirubin,
another component of bile. Cholesterol stones are not related to blood
cholesterol levels, though fatty diets may contribute to gallbladder
dysfunction. Stones made up of mostly bilirubin rather than cholesterol are
called pigment stones. The condition of having gallstones is called
Cholelithiasis. Gallstones can be any size, from tiny particles to golf-ball
The causes of gallstones are varied and there is no known way to prevent
their occurence. Conditions that cause the gallbladder to empty too slowly
can cause bile to over-concentrate in the gallbladder, leading to
gallstones. This is common in pregnant women. Some medical conditions like
sickle cell anemia or organ transplants appear to increase the risk of
developing gallstones. Diabetics are also more likely to develop gallstones.
Age, weight and estrogen can also be factors, and gallstones are most common
in overweight women in their later childbearing years. Gallstones do not
always cause any symptoms, and many people have gallstones without any
problems. Gallstones may be detected though various imaging techniques and
tests of digestive enzymes as well as abdominal palpation.
When gallstones become larger they may cause symptoms called a gallstone
attack or biliary colic. Symptoms of a gallstone attack include severe upper
abdominal pain that increases over time. Pain may also be felt in the back
or shoulders due to nerves that run through those areas as well as the
abdomen. Pain is sharp and severe. Gallstone attacks often happen after a
fatty meal. Other symptoms of gallstones may include bloating and
indigestion, particularly intolerance of fatty foods, clay-colored bowel
movements and nausea or vomiting.
Gallstones can be treated with medication and non-surgical interventions,
but these methods have a high incidence of recurrence of the stones. Surgery
to remove the gallbladder is common and can be done laparoscopically.
Typically the common bile duct takes over the duties of the gallbladder and
most people have few side effects from the removal.
Please contact us if
you are experiencing any of the symptoms above for an evaluation