What are Gallstones

Gallstones, small deposits resembling pebbles, form within the gallbladder, a pear-shaped sac located in the right upper abdomen beneath the liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver, until needed by the body. When bile solidifies into stone-like structures, gallstones develop, ranging in size from tiny grains to as large as golf balls.

Two primary types of gallstones exist:

  1. Cholesterol stones: These yellow-green stones primarily consist of hardened cholesterol and account for approximately 80% of all gallstones.
  2. Pigment stones: Dark stones made of bilirubin.

While gallstones may not produce symptoms in everyone, they can cause discomfort if they obstruct the flow of bile from the gallbladder or become lodged in bile ducts.

Gallstones commonly become trapped in various ducts, including:

  • Hepatic ducts: Transport bile from the liver.
  • Cystic duct: Connects the gallbladder to the bile ducts.
  • Common bile duct: Collects bile from the cystic and hepatic ducts, directing it to the small intestine.
  • Pancreatic duct: Conveys digestive enzymes from the pancreas to the intestine.

Typical symptoms of gallstones include acute abdominal pain, often triggered by fatty meals and frequently occurring at night. Additional symptoms may include feeling unwell, nausea, vomiting, bloating, excessive gas, belching, and profuse sweating.

For individuals with symptomatic gallbladder disease, treatment options include:

  • Cholecystectomy (surgical removal of the gallbladder).
  • Medications such as ursodeoxycholic acid.
  • Lithotripsy.

Cholecystectomy is the definitive treatment for gallstones. Following an initial mild episode of gallstone-related pain, doctors may recommend watchful waiting. However, severe symptoms or signs of complications typically necessitate surgical intervention, provided there are no contraindications.