Gallstones

What are Gallstones
Gallstone disease is the most common disorder affecting the biliary system, the body's system of transporting bile. Gallstones are solid, pebble-like masses that form in the gallbladder or the biliary tract (the ducts leading from the liver to the small intestine). They form when the bile hardens and are caused by an excess of cholesterol, bile salts or bilirubin.

What are the symptoms of Gallstones?
As gallstones move into the bile ducts and create blockage, pressure increases in the gallbladder. Symptoms of blocked bile ducts are often called a gallbladder "attack" because they occur suddenly. Gallbladder attacks often follow fatty meals, and they may occur during the night. A typical attack can cause

  • steady pain in the right upper abdomen that increases rapidly and lasts from 30 minutes to several hours
  • pain in the back between the shoulder blades
  • pain under the right shoulder

Notify your doctor if you think you have experienced a gallbladder attack. Although these attacks often pass as gallstones move, your gallbladder can become infected and rupture if a blockage remains.

People with any of the following symptoms should see a doctor immediately:

  • prolonged pain (more than 5 hours)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever or chills
  • yellowish color of the skin or whites of the eyes
  • clay-colored stools

Many people with gallstones have no symptoms;these gallstones are called "silent stones." They do not interfere with gallbladder, liver, or pancreas function and do not need treatment.

How are gallstones diagnosed?
Gallstones, especially those that are asymptomatic, are often discovered accidentally during an imaging scan for another problem. Common ways to diagnose gallstones include:

  • Ultrasound
  • CT Scan
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)

How are gallstones treated?
If you have gallstones without symptoms, no treatment is required. However, if you are experiencing frequent gallbladder attacks, you may need to have a cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder). Surgery to remove the gallbladder-a nonessential organ-is one of the most common surgeries performed on adults in the United States. Each treatment option has different outcomes, depending on your symptoms. The goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms and prevent complications from developing.

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