Gallstones are hard stones that form in the gallbladder. They consist of cholesterol and other substances from bile.
Overview and Symptoms
Gallstones range in size from barely measurable to 2.5 inches. Some of the factors that increase the risk of gallstones include being female, being over age 55, being obese, having a family history of gallstones, having multiple pregnancies, being of Native American or Mexican American descent, and taking female hormones such as birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
Many people with gallstones do not experience any physical symptoms and do not require any medical treatment. These people have “silent” gallstones. Others feel pain in the abdomen which may be intermittent or continuous, dull, or sharp, and is generally located in the upper abdomen, particularly on the right side where the gallbladder is located. If pain is accompanied by a fever, nausea, and vomiting, the gallbladder may be infected. In some cases, a gallstone can block the bile duct, which is indicated by symptoms such as fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), dark-colored urine, and light-colored stools. Gallstones in the bile duct can cause other complications such as pancreatitis.
People who require treatment for gallstones usually have the gallbladder removed in a surgical procedure called a cholecystectomy.
Stones in the bile duct are best managed using endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP), a procedure in which a flexible, lighted scope is passed down the throat to the duct to remove the gallstones.