Gallstones are small stones, usually made of cholesterol, that form in the gallbladder. In most cases they don't cause any symptoms and don't need to be treated.

However, if a gallstone becomes trapped in an opening (duct) inside the gallbladder, it can trigger a sudden, intense abdominal pain that usually lasts between one and five hours. This type of abdominal pain is known as biliary colic.

Some people with gallstonescan alsodevelop complications, such as inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) , which can cause:

  • persistent pain
  • jaundice
  • a fever

When gallstones cause symptoms or complications, it's known as gallstone disease or cholelithiasis.

Its main purpose is to store and concentrate bile.

Bile is a liquid produced by the liver to help digest fats. It's passed from the liverinto the gallbladderthrough a series of channels known as bile ducts.

The bile is stored in the gallbladder and, over time, it becomes more concentrated, which makes it better at digesting fats. The gallbladder releases bile into the digestive system when it's needed.

What causesgallstones?

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 that more than1 in every 10 adults in the UKhas gallstones, although onlya minorityofpeople develop symptoms.

You're more at risk of developing gallstones if you're:

  • overweightor obese
  • female particularly if you've had children
  • 40 or over the risk increases as you get older

You can lead a perfectly normal life without a gallbladder. Your liver will still produce bile to digest food, butthe bile will just drip continuously into the small intestine, rather thanbuild up in the gallbladder.

However, deaths from gallstone diseaseare rare in the UK.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the body that is found in blood and tissue. It is used to make bile acid, hormones and vitamin D.
The gallbladder is a small organ found just under the liver. It stores bile for digestion.
Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.
Jaundice is a condition that causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. It is brought on by liver problems.
The liver is the largest organ inside the body. Its main jobs are to secrete bile (to help digestion), detoxify the blood and change food into energy.
Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 28 Nov 2016