Gallstone Disease: Where the Stones Come from and how to Get Rid of them

In gallstone disease, as its name suggests, stones form in the gallbladder and bile ducts. What is it and why do they appear?



  • Gallstone disease – where is the problem?
  • What are stones?
  • What causes cholesterol to become a stone
  • Who is at risk?
  • How do you know if you have gallstone disease?
  • How to treat gallstone disease?

Gallstone Disease – where is the Problem?

To understand what cholelithiasis is, let’s look at the internal organs that are associated with it. First of all, it is the gallbladder, which is located next to the liver, in the region of the right hypochondrium. It is a small – about the size of a chicken egg – inside which is bile.

Bile is a fluid produced by the liver and is essential for digestion. Further, it is collected in the bile ducts of the liver, from there through the common bile duct it enters the gallbladder and into the duodenum, where it contributes to the digestion of food. It turns out that the gallbladder serves as a reservoir for storing bile and its rapid “shooting” into the intestines.

What are Stones?

As the name suggests, gallstone disease is the formation of stones in the gallbladder and ducts. Stones have a different composition, but the vast majority of more than 90% consists of cholesterol, with the addition of calcium salts and the pigment bilirubin.

The size of the stones is very different: they can be fine sand with particles no larger than a millimeter, or they can weigh tens of grams.

Stones can be located both in the bladder itself and in the ducts. The ducts are divided into two groups: hepatic (located inside the liver) and extrahepatic (these include the common, cystic, and bile ducts). Cholesterol, from which gallstones are formed, is taken from the bile itself. Why is this happening?

What Causes Cholesterol to Become a Stone

Experts believe that the reason for the formation of stones is an imbalance in the chemical composition of bile. Cholesterol, which is produced by the liver, is “packed” in bile in a “shell” – particles of bile salts and lecithin substances. If for one reason or another this shell is unstable, cholesterol precipitates and forms stones.

In addition, stones can form for other reasons – due to cholestasis and associated infections of the biliary system. Cholestasis is the stagnation of bile or a violation of its outflow, while less bile enters the duodenum. Usually, such an issue occurs due to mechanical blocking of the ducts. For example, another gallstone or as a result of strong or repeated bending of the gallbladder. It also often occurs as a result of side effects of drugs and for genetic reasons.

Who is at Risk?

Gallstone disease is a very common disease. According to various estimates, it is found in approximately 20% of the population of developed countries.

Risk Factors for Developing Gallstone Disease:

  • Being overweight (obesity)
  • Sudden weight loss (for example, due to extreme diets)
  • Improper diet – eating foods high in simple carbohydrates
  • Sedentary lifestyle (it exacerbates bile stasis)

All of these risk factors are among those that you can influence – it is in your power to adjust your lifestyle so as to reduce the likelihood of developing gallstone disease.

The next group of circumstances that increase the risk include health factors: this is the use of the hormone estrogen or the natural increase in estrogen levels due to pregnancy. The presence of diabetes mellitus, cystic fibrosis, surgical interventions associated with a decrease in the volume of the stomach, as well as the presence of parasites in the intestines and biliary tract also contribute.

Scientists believe that about 25% of the predisposition to gallstone disease is genetic in nature – and more than a dozen genes are involved in this.

Women are more prone to developing gallstone disease than men – as a rule, it begins to be detected in the 40s, and the peak of detection of the disease occurs at about 55 years. In men, cholelithiasis is usually detected after 50 years, and the peak of detection occurs at 60-65 years.

To avoid illness, it is important to check the body in a timely manner. Then it is possible to diagnose gallstone disease in time and avoid complications: pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts), cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder).

How do you Know if you Have Gallstone Disease?

Gallstone disease may not manifest itself for years. However, if a gallstone gets stuck in the duct, it can cause these symptoms:

  • Sudden and rapidly worsening pain in the upper right corner of the abdomen
  • Sudden and rapidly increasing pain in the center of the abdomen, just below the sternum
  • Back pain between shoulder blades
  • Pain in the right shoulder
  • Nausea or vomiting

Another symptom of gallstone disease is yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes – in this case, you should also consult a doctor.

A gastroenterologist is engaged in the diagnosis and treatment of gallstone disease, and a blood test and ultrasound will help with the proper diagnosis. In difficult cases, when the stones are in the bile ducts, a study called magnetic resonance cholangiography or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is used.

How to Treat Gallstone Disease?

The treatment plan for gallstone disease depends on how severe the symptoms are. If they are not there, or they do not greatly affect the quality of your life, then you can limit yourself to observation, proper diet.

Cholagogue drugs should not be taken – they can be prescribed by a doctor for cholangitis or cholecystitis, but do not try to “drive out” stones from the ducts or gallbladder with their help.

These drugs, firstly, increase the production of bile, thereby increasing the load on the liver, and secondly, the stones can simply get stuck in the ducts and block them.

If you experience severe pain, and there are a lot of stones in your choleretic system, an operation to remove the gallbladder is recommended. It is not a vital organ, which means you can lead a normal life without it.


  • Gallstone disease is the formation of stones in the gallbladder and bile ducts. In the vast majority of cases, stones have a high cholesterol content.
  • Stones are usually formed due to a chemical imbalance in the composition or stagnation of bile.
  • Risk factors for gallstone disease include eating fatty foods and extra weight, rapid weight loss, not exercising enough, taking certain medications, or having a medical condition.
  • Symptoms of gallstone disease may include pain or yellowing of the skin, but the disease may go unnoticed for years.
  • A plan for the treatment of gallstone disease should be developed by a healthcare provider. Treatment is very individual: from monitoring and taking pain medications to removing the gallbladder.

This does not constitute medical advice, always seek the direct advice of your Doctor or Medical Provider for your specific health care or needs.

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