Gallstones refer to the buildup of small, pebble-like deposits in the gallbladder, the organ that stores bile produced in the liver until the body needs it. The gallbladder then pushes the bile into the small intestine, where it aids in the digestion. Gallstones are formed from substances found in bile.
Gallstones can cause painful episodes, often following consumption of fatty foods. Symptoms of a gallbladder attack may include:
- Steady pain in the right upper abdomen, lasting from minutes to hours
- Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
- Pain in the right shoulder.
Gallstones form when liquid bile hardens and builds up in the gallbladder. These can form gallstones when they are present in abnormally high levels. Gallstones can occur as one or more tiny pebbles, or as a large stone the size of a golf ball.
Gallstones are more common in women, especially during pregancy. Diabetics, American Indians, Mexican Americans and individuals with a family history of gallstones have a higher risk of developing them. Other risk factors include obesity or some cholestoral medications.
Gallstones may be diagnosed with various tests, including endoscopic ultrasound, CT scan or ERCP.
Gallstones can be removed endoscopically during an ERCP. They are also commonly treated with surgery to remove the entire gallbladder.