Gallstones may be painful, but are easily fixed
One in six women and one in ten men will develop gallstones during their lives, although many of them will never know it.
in the gallbladder - a hollow, sausage-like structure
found below the liver under the ribs on the right side
of the abdomen. The gallbladder’s job is to store bile,
a yellowish-green digestive fluid made by the liver.
After a meal the gallbladder contracts, sending the bile
down a tube - the common bile duct - into the intestine.
If the bile in
the gallbladder is over-concentrated, little crystals
may form. These can go on to form stones. There may be
just one or two, or several hundred, stones in an
For some people,
these stones cause no problem. But for others they can
cause considerable pain, known as biliary colic.
when the contracting gallbladder squeezes on a stone, or
(more seriously) when a stone gets jammed in the bile
This pain is
typically felt after food, particularly fatty or greasy
meals. Sometimes it will disturb sleep. The pain is
usually felt under the ribs on the right, or in the
back, or both.
usually diagnosed by ultrasound - a machine that makes a
picture by bouncing sound waves through the body.
usually involves removing the gallbladder. There has
been some success with drugs that dissolve gallstones
but these often fail and are not pleasant to take.
Most cases are
now dealt with by an operation known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy. In this, the gallbladder is removed via
the laparoscope - a small tube inserted through the
Other tubes are
also inserted to allow a tiny television camera and
other instruments to be used. The patient can often
leave hospital within a day of the operation and be back
at work in a week.
Not all cases
can be done this way and the traditional operation is
still necessary quite often. This also produces very
good results but means a longer stay in hospital and a
bigger scar on the abdomen.
It is used to be
said that gallstones affected a group of people known as
the “five Fs” - fat, fair, fertile, female and forty.
But we now know that all types can be affected.