The Gallbladder & Bile Ducts 

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located next to and behind the liver. The gallbladder is used to store and recycle excess bile (a fluid that helps the body break down fat) from the small intestine so that it can be reused for the digestion of subsequent meals.

What are Gallstones?

Gallstones are small stones that form inside the gallbladder. Gallstones can be tiny specks or become mush larger, even as big as the whole gallbladder.

Normally, the gallbladder fills with bile in between meals. Then, when you eat, the gallbladder empties the bile into the intestine to help breakdown fatty foods. Gallstones can irritate the gallbladder. Gallstones can also clog the gallbladder and keep it from draining or actually keep the liver or pancreas from draining if the stones are pushed out into the ducts.

What are the Symptoms of Gallstones?

In most cases, gallstones are asymptomatic. If you know that you have gallstones but have no symptoms, you probably will not need treatment. If you start having symptoms, you should consider treatment. Although the symptoms can come and go, once you have experienced them they typically get worse over time. The most common symptoms are…

  • Pain – most often on the right side just under the rib cage.
  • Pain may also occur in the back or right shoulder
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fatty food intolerance.

How are Gallstones Diagnosed?

The most common and easiest test to diagnose gallstones is an ultrasound.  An ultrasound is a painless test that uses sound waves to make an image of your gallbladder and can detect the gallstones inside.

How are gallstones treated? — People with gallstones generally have two main treatment options, which they should discuss with their doctor. There are pros and cons to each treatment approach.

  • No treatment – People with no or minimal symptoms may elect not to treat their gallstones until the symptoms become worse.
  • Surgery to remove the gallbladder – Surgical removal of the gallbladder is routine in the United States and is increasingly performed using less invasive laproscopic surgical techniques. The surgical procedure is called a cholecystectomy and does require the use of anesthesia, so it has some risks. Although the surgery eliminates the gallstones and their associated symptoms, removal of the gallbladder may affect digestion.  About half the people who have surgery have mild symptoms including watery bowel movements, gas, or bloating. These symptoms typically get better over time.

Selecting he right treatment depend on the size of the stones and the presence and severity of your symptoms.

Can gallstones be prevented?

Yes, people who are overweight are more likely to get gallstones so the most useful thing you can do to prevent them is to control your weight.