The Facts on Gallstones

The Facts on Gallstones

Gallstones are abnormal concretions that form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a tiny organ situated beside the abdomen and below the liver. Its primary responsibilities are to store bile, which is produced by the liver, and then to release the proper amounts to the small intestine to help with digestion.

The actual substance, bile, is composed of fats, water, cholesterol, bile salts, and a natural pigment called bilirubin. Gallstone typically form when there is either too much bilirubin or too much cholesterol in the bile.

There are only two kinds of gallstones: cholesterol stones and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones account for nearly eighty percent of all gallstones and are composed of bile salts and cholesterol, while pigment stones account for the remaining twenty percent of stones and are composed almost entirely of the pigment, bilirubin. Although most gallstones are small, about the size of a pea, gallstones that are the size of golf balls are occasionally discovered.

Who gets them?

Gallstones disproportionately affect women and the elderly. According to recent numbers, more than twenty percent of Americans over the age of 65 have gallstones, though most of them never experience a single symptom. But if complications do arise, gallstone can cause serious problems and must be treated.

What causes them?

There are several factors that doctors believe may cause or at least put people at a greater risk of developing gallstones. They include: heredity, weight, and the motility of the gallbladder, i.e., its ability to contract.

With regard to heredity, yes, it is true that if anyone in your immediate family every suffered from gallstones, your chances of developing them are greatly increased.

It is also true that being overweight or obese puts you at much higher risk of getting gallstones.

When it comes to actual causes, cholesterol gallstones form when there is an excess of cholesterol and a dearth of salt in the bile. However, no one is quite sure what cases pigment stones. It is believed that may be a simple side effect of some preexisting condition, perhaps a blood disorder, but few doctors would state that with any degree of confidence.

Common risk factors

Gender: Women are twice as likely to have gallstones.
Obesity: Even slightly overweight or merely out-of-shape people are at elevated risk levels.
Age: People over 60.
Estrogen: Increased levels of the hormone estrogen, commonly seen in pregnant women, can lead to the formation of gallstones.
Medications: Certain prescription pills, especially cholesterol medications will lower the levels of cholesterol in the blood, but will often increase it in the bile, which leads to cholesterol stones.
Diabetes: People who suffer from diabetes have higher levels of insulin and fatty acids in their bodies, which may cause gallstones.


As we mentioned, most people who have gallstones never even know it. But occasionally complications do arise. These are commonly called gallstone attacks and they can last for minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. The symptoms of these attacks often include, pain in the abdomen (especially on the right side), pain in the upper back, pain under the shoulder, and, in extreme cases, bouts of nausea and vomiting.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is imperative that you visit your doctor as soon as possible, as untreated gallstones can lead to inflammation and infection. The treatment for gallstones includes everything from prescription medications to ultrasound to surgery.

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1 Comment(s)

MY husband got his gallbladder removed, what does the gallbladder do and what is he missing not having a gallbladder? Do you advice anything?
By: Kristina 10 years ago

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