Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver. The gallbladder holds a digestive fluid called bile that's released into your small intestine.
Gallstones range in size from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. Some people develop just one gallstone, while others develop many gallstones at the same time.
Gallstones are common in the United States. People who experience symptoms from their gallstones usually require gallbladder removal surgery. Gallstones that don't cause any signs and symptoms typically don't need treatment.
Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile that can form in your gallbladder. Bile is a digestive fluid produced in your liver and stored in your gallbladder. When you eat, your gallbladder contracts ...
Gallstones may cause no signs or symptoms. If a gallstone lodges in a duct and causes a blockage, signs and symptoms may result, such as:
Gallstone pain may last several minutes to a few hours.
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate care if you develop signs and symptoms of a serious gallstone complication, such as:
It's not clear what causes gallstones to form. Doctors think gallstones may result when:
Types of gallstones
Factors that may increase your risk of gallstones include:
Complications of gallstones may include:
Pancreatitis caused by gallstones
Gallstones are a common cause of pancreatitis. Gallstones, produced in the gallbladder, can block the bile duct, stopping pancreatic enzymes from traveling to the small intestine and forcing them ...
Gallbladder cancer begins in the cells of the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver. ...
Preparing for your appointment
Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor suspects you may have gallstones, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the digestive system (gastroenterologist) or to an abdominal surgeon.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of information to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For gallstones, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Tests and procedures used to diagnose gallstones include:
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) uses a dye to highlight the bile ducts. During ERCP, a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) with a camera on the end is gently passed down your throat,...
Treatments and drugs
Gallstones that don't cause signs and symptoms
Your doctor may recommend you be alert for symptoms of gallstone complications, such as intensifying pain in your upper right abdomen. If gallstone signs and symptoms occur in the future, you can have treatment. But most people with gallstones that don't cause symptoms will never need treatment.
Treatment for gallstones that cause signs and symptoms
Special surgical tools and a tiny video camera are inserted through four incisions in your abdomen during laparoscopic cholecystectomy. The surgeon watches a monitor while guiding the tools to remove ...
Remedies to prevent gallstones from causing complications
No alternative therapies have been proved to cure or dissolve gallstones.
Some alternative therapies may help reduce your risk of gallstone complications, though. Ask your doctor about which therapies may be safe for you to try. Options might include:
You can reduce your risk of gallstones if you:
Last Updated: 2011-07-23
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