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Gallstone Disease

Gallstones are clumps of cholesterol or bile that collect into hardened masses inside the gallbladder (a small organ underneath the liver that stores the bile before releasing it into the small intestine). The bile is important for digesting fat and flushing waste products in the small intestine. Gallstones disrupt that process.

When the gallbladder is healthy, it stores bile that drains from the liver. But, when gallstones develop, blockage or pressure on the gallbladder may occur. The gallbladder can become inflamed. Pancreatitis may develop if the gallstones block the duct connecting the pancreas and the gallbladder.

Individual gallstones develop in a range of sizes, from no larger than a speck to as large as a golf ball. Sometimes gallstones are small enough  pass through the digestive tracts. But, sharp pains and infection can occur when stones are large enough to block the outlet of the gallbladder.


Gallstones often cause no symptoms, or no symptoms for an extended period of time. But, when gallstones break through the walls of the gallbladder and cause a blockage (gallstone ileus), a colic pain will happen. A sharp pain will grow and fade intermittently, usually felt in the right side of the abdomen but possible anywhere up to the shoulder.

Other symptoms include:

  • Vomiting;
  • Nausea;
  • Fever;
  • Yellowish skin (jaundice).
A person showing these symptoms requires medical attention.


Gallstones are a common development in the elderly or overweight individuals – and also individuals on a rapid weight loss plan or crash dieting.

Gallstones may also be cause by high amounts of estrogen, sometimes occurring as a result of multiple pregnancies or birth control pills.


Imaging tests are necessary for the gastroenterologist to find the gallstones and examine their size and possible movement path:

  • Gallbladder scan: a dye injected into the patient’s vein allows the liver, gallbladder, and intestine to appear on x-rays.


Many times, gallstones do not cause symptoms and do not require treatment. However, in cases when the patient experiences pain or blockage, the following treatment options may be recommended:

  • Surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy)
    • Open surgery;
    • Laparoscopy: minimally invasive surgery that causes less trauma to the abdomen and a faster recovery time.

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