Gallstones are solid, pebble-like collections that form inside the gallbladder. The gallbladder is located in the upper right abdomen, below the liver.
Fortunately, most people with gallstones do not have symptoms and do not require treatment. In some cases, however, gallstones cause pain or other complications and must be treated, usually by removing the stone(s) or the entire gallbladder.
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped sac-like organ with a muscular wall that is 7.5 to 15 cm long, located in the right upper side of the abdomen, under the liver. It is connected to the liver and intestine via bile ducts.
The primary purpose of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile, a greenish-brown fluid that is produced by the liver. Bile is needed to digest and absorb fatty foods, and to absorb important fat soluble vitamins.
Between meals, the gallbladder is relaxed and bile flows into the gallbladder, where it is stored and concentrated. With meals, fatty foods in the small intestine cause the gallbladder to contract (squeeze) and partially empty into the intestine. A few hours later, the gallbladder relaxes and begins to store bile again.
Gallstones are collections of solid material that form inside the gallbladder. Gallstones may be as small as tiny specks or as large as the gallbladder itself. The vast majority, however, are smaller than 2.5 cm and are one of two major types, cholesterol or pigment. Gallstone type is important since cholesterol stones are more likely to respond to non-surgical treatments than pigment stones.
Silent gallstones - Most people who have gallstones do not have symptoms; their stones remain "silent". Silent gallstones are often found incidentally on an ultrasound or CT scan done for other reasons. These stones do not need to be treated.
If you have silent gallstones, you should be aware of the initial symptoms of gallstone disease because you may need treatment if you develop symptoms.
Biliary colic - Biliary colic, also known as gallstone pain or biliary pain, is the most common symptom of gallstones. It causes attacks of cramp-like abdominal pain, often located in the right upper abdomen below the ribcage. There may be associated nausea, and vomiting, and pain in the right shoulder or back.
Biliary colic usually happens when the gallbladder contracts in response to a fatty meal, resulting in the stones blocking the opening of the gallbladder into the bile ducts. The pain usually subsides a few hours after meals when the gallbladder relaxes again. Sometimes the pain can occur even without having eaten anything.