Gallstones are small stones, usually made of cholesterol, that form in the gallbladder.
If a gallstone becomes trapped in an opening (duct) inside the gallbladder, it can trigger a sudden, intense pain in your tummy that usually lasts several hours. This is called biliary colic.
Some people with gallstones can also develop complications, such as inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis).
This can cause:
- persistent pain
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- a high temperature
When gallstones cause symptoms or complications, it’s known as gallstone disease or cholelithiasis.
What causes gallstones?
Gallstones are thought to develop because of an imbalance in the chemical make-up of bile inside the gallbladder.
In most cases the levels of cholesterol in bile become too high and the excess cholesterol forms into stones.
Gallstones are very common. It’s estimated more than 1 in every 10 adults in the UK has gallstones, although only a minority of people develop symptoms.
You’re more at risk of developing gallstones if you’re:
- overweight or obese
- female (particularly if you have had children)
- 40 or over (the risk increases as you get older)
Treatment is usually only necessary if gallstones are causing symptoms as described above.
In these cases, keyhole surgery to remove the gallbladder may be recommended.
This procedure, known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, is relatively simple to perform, has a low risk of complications and usually requires an overnight stay.
It’s possible to lead a normal life without a gallbladder.
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