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Gallstones are small stones that are formed in the gall bladder. They are usually made up from cholesterol, but also occasionally from calcium. The gall bladder is a small pouch like organ located near the liver, just under the ribcage on the right hand side. The purpose of the gall bladder is to store and concentrate bile, which is used to help break down our food by digesting fats. It releases bile into the digestive system as required.
Sometimes stones can form in the gall bladder. In most cases gall stones do not cause any symptoms and do not need to be treated. However, if a gallstone becomes trapped in the opening of a duct it can trigger a biliary colic attack that lasts up to five hours.Symptoms include intense abdominal pain, especially just under the ribs. Gallstones can also inflame the gall bladder and produce persistent pain, jaundice, high temperature of 38°C or above. Gallstones can move to the pancreas, causing irritation and inflammation.
Gallstones can develop due to an imbalance in the chemical make up of bile inside the gall bladder, usually when cholesterol levels become too high and excess cholesterol forms into stones. You are more at risk from gall stones if you are overweight or obese, female, aged 40 or over and a mother (due to hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy).
Gallstones can be accurately diagnosed by ultrasound scanning of the abdomen. You do not require your gallbladder and can function without it so it is often the recommended to remove the gallbladder. Bile will just drip continuously into the small intestine, rather than build up in the gall bladder. Keyhole surgery to remove the gall bladder (laparoscopic cholecystectomy) is a relatively simple operation to perform.
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