Conditions InDepth: Gallstones
Gallstones form when cholesterol or bile, which is stored in the gallbladder, hardens into pieces of stone-like material. Gallstones are made of about 75% cholesterol salts. The remaining 25% is made up of bilirubin salts, a bile pigment and calcium carbonate. Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. The gallbladder can develop just one large stone, hundreds of tiny stones, or almost any combination.
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- Gallstone pancreatitis—A gallstone blocks the opening to the pancreatic duct, and digestive enzymes become trapped in the pancreas causing extremely painful inflammation
- Biliary colic—Pain caused by a gallstone stuck in the bile duct, a tube that carries bile to the small intestine
- Cholecystitis—A stone caught in the bile duct causing inflammation of the gallbladder
- Cholangitis—An infection of the bile ducts
- Gallstone ileus—The gallbladder attaches to the small intestine, creating an abnormal opening through which the stone can travel and cause an obstruction of the small bowel
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Ahmed A, Cheung RC, et al. Management of gallstones and their complications. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61:1673-1678.
Gallstones. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 23, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2013.
Portincasa P, Moschetta A, et al. Cholesterol gallstone disease. Lancet. 2006;368:230-239.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 09/2014
- Update Date: 09/17/2014