What are Gallstones?

diagram showing where gallstones are in the bodyGallstones, a condition also known as cholelithiasis, are pieces of hard material that form in the gallbladder, the organ responsible for excreting the necessary amounts of bile into your body for digestive purposes.

These small pieces of material can cause severe pain and even block the surrounding ducts.  They can range in size from as small as a piece of grain to even as large as a golf ball.

Some people produce only one gallstone in their gallbladders, while others may form multiple stones.

Gallstones are quite common, especially in women and those over the age of 40.


Common Symptoms of Gallstones

Gallstones are thought to form for a number of reasons.

There may be an imbalance of cholesterol or other pigments making up your bile that crystallize and form these hard substances.  An excessive amount of bilirubin may also play a role in forming gallstones.  Lastly, if your gallbladder is not emptying correctly, the bile may become too concentrated and gallstones could potentially form.

Most times people who have gallstones never experience any symptoms.

If they have yet to cause any type of duct blockage or severe inflammation, you may experience no pain at all and they may dissolve on their own.  However, when the gallstones are severe, some common symptoms of gallstones you may experience include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen and back, especially near the right shoulder blade
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating, indigestion, belching, and heartburn

It will be difficult to take deep breaths, the pain will often be continuous for hours at a time and last up to even as long as 24 hours before subsiding, and will usually occur at night or after a meal.


Gallstone Surgery

Usually, should the gallstones not dissipate on their own, things such as medication, shock-wave therapy, and contact solvent treatment will dissolve the gallstones in your gallbladder and relieve you of any pain you are experiencing.  However, there are the instances where the only option available is to have a gallstone surgery whereby the entire gallbladder is removed.

Removing the gallbladder is one of the most common procedures performed in the United States.

Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery is the most common surgery done to remove the surgery.  This involves a light viewing laparoscope that is inserted through several small incisions in your abdomen to remove the gallstones and gallbladder.  Very rarely is an open gallbladder surgery required where larger incisions are made to remove the gallbladder.

Some risks involved with gallstone surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Infection
  • Injury to the common bile duct
  • Injury to the small intestine
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation in the pancreas)

After the surgery is performed, so long as you can tolerate liquids easily, you should be able to go home the day of the surgery.  Sometimes complications arise that may require additional monitoring, although this is rare.  Most people return to normal activities between 7 and 10 days post-surgery.

With over 20 years of highly-specialized experience and training, Dr. Mark Fraiman is recognized as an expert in the treatment of gallbladder disease including gallstone surgery.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, Dr. Fraiman works closely with a team of specialists at St. Joseph Medical Center’s Liver and Pancreas Center to come up with an individualized plan for each of his gallbladder patients.  Should gallstone surgery become an option for one of his patients, Dr. Fraiman is committed to providing the best patient care possible.