It is estimated that up to 1 million Americans are hospitalized annually as a result of gallstones, making it the most common of all digestive diseases.1 Gallstones are formed when bile hardens in the gallbladder. 80% of gallstones are a result of cholesterol precipitation, while 20% are a result of bile pigment precipitation2. The cause of gallstones is unknown2. The way in which gallstones are formed is shown in the following video.
The following figure shows a severe case of gallstones.
Figure 5.21: Gallstones within a dissected gallbladder. Image used with permission (CC SA 3.0; Emmanuelm at en.wikipedia)
Many people do not experience symptoms from gallstones. They are usually discovered during an examination for another health condition. However, some people experience an "attack" or pain that results from blockage of the bile ducts. The gallbladder is not essential, so the primary treatment is cholecystectomy, the removal of the gallbladder. Bile then flows directly from the liver into the small intestine.
References & Links
- Bar-Meir S. (2001) Gallstones: Prevalence, diagnosis, and treatment. The Israel Medical Association Journal 3(2): 111.