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Gallstones are lumps of solid material that form in your gallbladder. They are made when the digestive juice called bile gets hard and stone-like.
The gallbladder is a small organ under your liver. It stores bile made by the liver. Bile is made of several things such as cholesterol, bile salts, and a yellowish pigment (bilirubin).
Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. Your gallbladder may form a single large stone, hundreds of tiny stones, or both sizes at the same time. In some cases, gallstones block the tubes that carry bile (bile ducts). This can lead to a life-threatening infections of the bile ducts, pancreas, or liver. Once you have had gallstones, you are at risk of having more.
There are 2 types of gallstones: cholesterol and pigment.
Cholesterol stones form when your gallbladder doesn’t empty the way it should. They also form when bile has:
Health experts don’t know what causes pigment stones to form. But pigment stones are more common in people who have:
Some people have a higher risk for gallstones. These include:
Health issues that may raise your risk for gallstones include:
Some people with gallstones don't have any symptoms. These stones are called silent stones. They don't stop the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas from working properly. In most cases they don't need to be treated. Most gallstones don’t cause symptoms right away.
Gallstone symptoms (also called a gallbladder attack) may happen very suddenly. They often:
Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:
See your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these symptoms during or after a gallbladder attack:
The symptoms of gallstones may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.
Many people have gallstones but don’t know it because they don’t have symptoms. In some cases gallstones are found by accident. This may happen if you are being tested for a different health problem.
But if you have pain that doesn’t go away, your healthcare provider will look at your past health and give you a physical exam.
You may also have some tests to check for gallstones such as:
If your gallstones don’t cause any symptoms, you often don’t need treatment.
Gallstones that do cause symptoms should be treated right away. They may lead to damage or infection if your bile ducts are blocked for a long time.
If your symptoms don’t go away, your treatment may include:
Most people respond very well once their stones are dissolved or taken out.
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