What are gallstones?

    The gallbladder is an internal organ that sits just under your liver. It looks like a small 'bag.' It stores digestive juices that are made by the liver. Sometimes these juices become soild and form stones, called gallstones.

    What problems can gallstones cause?

    About 60% of people with gallstones never get sick from them. They might never know they have gallstones. However, a gallstone can leave your gallbladder and go into the passageway from your gallbladder to your intestine. It can get stuck in that passageway. If the stone completely blocks the passageway, you will have severe pain in the right upper part of your belly. You may also feel pain in your upper back. The pain usually starts suddenly and lasts for as long as 3 hours. This is known as an 'attack.'

    Complete or partial blockage can also cause your gallbladder to get irritated and inflamed. If this happens, you will usually have pain for more than 3 hours. You may also get a fever. Your skin may turn yellowish color, known as jaundice.

    Who gets gallstones?

    You're more likely to get gallstones if:

    •    You are a woman

    •    You have diabetes

    •    Your mother had gallstones

    •    You are pregnant or taking birth control pills

    •    You have a high blood level of triglycerides (a type of fat)


    How gallstones are usually treated?

    If you have gallstones but no pain, chances are good the stones won't be a problem for you. Your doctor might suggest you leave them alone. 

    Once you have one attack of pain, you are likely to have another one. You may want to think about having your gallbladder removed in surgery to prevent a future attack. You and your doctor should talk about your situation and decide what is right for you. If your gallbladder is irritated or inflamed, it is probably a good idea to have it removed. The surgery is safe and effective. Without surgery, an irritated or inflamed gallbladder might get infected. It could even burst open, causing serious problems.

    Are there other treatments?

    Yes, there are other treatments. Your doctor might be able to use sound wave therapy to break up the stones so they can move into the intestine without problems. However, people who have this treatment sometimes form new gallstones after a few years. There is also a pill called Actigall which dissolves gallstones in some people. The pill is very expensive and it does not work for everyone.

    This document is intended to provide health related information so that you may be better informed. It is not a substitute for your care team's medical advice and should not be relied upon for treatment for specific medical conditions.


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