The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ located under the liver. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver which is used by the body for digestion. Gallstones are lumps of hard material that can collect in your gallbladder. They can range in size from a grain of sand to filling the entire gallbladder. Gallstones are pigmented stones made of hardened deposits of digestive fluid. Most gallstones are not symptomatic. However, if they block a duct and obstruct the flow of bile it can lead to swelling of the gallbladder and may require treatment.
There are many factors that can lead to the development of gallstones. The risk is twice as likely in women between the ages of 20 and 60 due to high levels of estrogen during pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills that increase the level of cholesterol. Other common factors include family history, obesity, and rapid weight loss may also lead to gallstones.
The main symptom of gallstones is abdominal pain, however many people show no symptoms at all. Symptoms can appear after fatty meals including; abdominal bloating, pain in the upper abdomen that lasts for several hours, indigestion, belching, nausea and vomiting. Gallstones can have many symptoms in common with other illnesses so it is important to be diagnosed promptly and accurately by having a diagnostic test, such as an ultrasound.
The only definitive treatment for gallstones is to remove the gallbladder through surgery. The most common surgery is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is usually outpatient surgery in which a surgeon makes 4-5 small incisions to insert a camera and surgical instruments through in order to remove the gallbladder. In very rare cases a surgeon will have to do an “open” cholecystectomy which requires a 5-7 inch incision and a hospital stay, however it is not done unless necessary. When gallstones are diagnosed and treated promptly the outcome is usually very good.