Gallstones occur when bile forms solid particles (stones) in the gallbladder.
- The stones form when the amount of cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile is high.
- Other substances in the bile may promote the formation of stones.
- Pigment stones form most often in people with liver disease or blood disease, who have high levels of bilirubin.
- Poor muscle tone may keep the gallbladder from
emptying completely. The presence of residual bile may promote the formation of gallstones.
Risk factors for the formation of cholesterol gallstones include the following:
- female gender,
- being overweight,
- losing a lot of weight quickly on a "crash" or starvation diet, or
- taking certain medications such as
birth control pills or cholesterol lowering drugs.
Gallstones are the most common cause of gallbladder disease.
- As the stones mix with liquid bile, they can block the outflow of bile from the gallbladder. They can also block the outflow of digestive enzymes from the pancreas.
- If the blockage persists, these organs can become inflamed. Inflammation of the gallbladder is called cholecystitis. Inflammation of the pancreas is called
- Contraction of the blocked gallbladder causes increased pressure, swelling, and, at times, infection of the gallbladder.
When the gallbladder or gallbladder ducts become inflamed or infected as the result of stones, the pancreas frequently becomes inflamed too.
- This inflammation can cause destruction of the pancreas, resulting in severe
- Untreated gallstone disease can become life-threatening, particularly if the gallbladder becomes infected or if the pancreas becomes severely inflamed.
Must Read Articles Related to Gallstones
Abdominal Pain in Adults
Abdominal pain in adults can range from a mild stomach ache to severe pain. Examples of causes of abdominal pain in adults include appendicitis, gallbladder dis...learn more >>
Cirrhosis is a chronic (ongoing, long-term) disease of the liver. It means damage to the normal liver tissue that keeps this important organ from working as it ...learn more >>
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. There are two kinds of pancreatitis, acute and chronic. The primary causes of pancreatitis are alcohol and gallsto...learn more >>
Patient Comments & Reviews
The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Gallstones: