Gallstones

Other name: biliary calculi

Gallstones are rounded solid deposits in the gallbladder or bile ducts. These range from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter. The most commonly found gallstones are compromised of a mixture of cholesterol and calcium salts. Some are pure cholesterol, but many are mixed. A small number are called "pigment" stones and contain bilirubin salts. Gallstones may be associated with chronic infection in the gallbladder.

Symptoms

Gallstones often produce no symptoms, but they cause pain when they are passed through the bile ducts or when there is infection.

Diagnosis

A plain abdominal x-ray will show calcified gallstones in 20% of patients. Ultrasound is the method of choice to diagnose gallstones, but cholecystography (gallbladder x-ray) and CT can also be used.

Medical Treatment

The main treatment is surgery, although this is not required unless the gallstones are causing problems.