What are gallstones?
Gallstones are small solid lumps or stones that form in bile and can cause a variety of symptoms. Bile is made by the liver and is stored in a small bag, the gall bladder, that is attached to the under surface of the liver. When we eat the gallbladder empties and the bile is released into the bowel to aid in digestion.
Why do gallstones form?
Bile is a collection of chemicals such as cholesterol, the fatty substance on our diets. When the bile can contain no more of the chemicals as a liquid, gallstones start to form. Gallstones start as small crystals but can grow either into a single large stone or form multiple tiny stones.
What symptoms can gallstones cause?
Gallstones may cause no symptoms at all and may only be found incidentally on an ultrasound. However gallstones can cause a variety of symptoms the most frequent being recurrent pain either due to stones blocking the cystic duct and preventing the gallbladder emptying (biliary colic) or inflammation and infection of the gallbladder (cholecystitis). Occasionally gallstones may move out of the gallbladder and cause blockage of the common bile duct leading to jaundice (the skin turns a lemon yellow colour) or inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
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