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The gall bladder is a small sac lying on the underside of the liver. Bile (also called gall) is a greenish-brown liquid produced by the liver. It is stored and concentrated in the gall bladder and passed into the small intestine through the bile ducts to help with digestion, mainly of fats.
Gallstones are hard pieces of stone-like material, round, oval, or faceted, commonly occurring in the gall bladder or the bile duct.
Most gallstones are about the size of a pea, but in some cases there can be many very small stones, like fine gravel, or a single stone so large that it completely fills the gall bladder. They are more common in women than in men and about 1 in 10 older adults have gallstones.
Most gallstones are made up of cholesterol, chalk (calcium carbonate), calcium bilirubinate, or a mixture of these. They are more likely to occur if the composition of the bile is abnormal, if the outlet from the gall bladder is blocked or has a local infection, or if there is a family history of gallstones.
Most gallstones cause no trouble. But the presence of stones may lead to inflammation of the gall bladder (cholecystitis), and may block the bile duct, leading to obstructive jaundice. The passage of a gallstone down the bile duct into the duodenum is a very painful experience, known as biliary colic.