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Gallstones - Topic Overview

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The gallbladder is a small sac found just under the liver. It stores bile made by the liver. Bile helps you digest fats. Bile moves from the gallbladder to the small intestine through tubes called the cystic duct and common bile duct.

Gallstones camera.gif are made from cholesterol and other things found in the bile. They can be smaller than a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.

Most gallstones do not cause problems. But if they block a duct, they usually need treatment.

Gallstones form when cholesterol and other things found in bile make stones. They can also form if the gallbladder does not empty as it should. People who are overweight or who are trying to lose weight quickly are more likely to get gallstones.

Most people who have gallstones do not have symptoms.

If you have symptoms, you most likely will have mild pain in the pit of your stomach or in the upper right part camera.gif of your belly. Pain may spread to your right upper back or shoulder blade area. Sometimes the pain is more severe. It may be steady, or it may come and go. Or it may get worse when you eat.

When gallstones keep blocking a bile duct, you may have pain with fever and chills. Or your skin or the whites of your eyes may turn yellow. Call your doctor right away. Having stones in your bile duct increases your chance of having a swollen pancreas camera.gif (pancreatitis). These symptoms may also be a sign of an infected gallbladder.

Call your doctor right away if you have sudden or bad pain in your belly or chest and you are not sure what is causing it. Symptoms of gallstones may feel like chest pain caused by a heart attack or other serious problems.

You may decide to go to the doctor because of pain in your belly. In this case, your doctor will ask you questions about when the pain started, where it is, and if it comes and goes or is always there. Your doctor may order imaging tests. These take pictures of the inside of your body. An ultrasound of the belly is the best test to find gallstones. This test does not hurt.

Your ultrasound may not show gallstones. But if your doctor still thinks you have a problem with your gallbladder, he or she may order a gallbladder scan. In this test, a doctor injects dye into a vein in your arm. Then a machine takes X-rays as the dye moves through your liver, bile duct, gallbladder, and intestine.

Most people have gallstones but don't know it because they do not have symptoms. Gallstones may be found by accident when you have tests for other health problems or when a woman has an ultrasound during pregnancy.

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