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Conditions InDepth: Gallstones
- About 75% of all stones have solid cholesterol. They can either be pure (all cholesterol) or mixed (at least half cholesterol).
- About 20% are pigment gallstones made of calcium bilirubinate, a bile pigment. Some cholesterol may also be mixed in.
- About 5% are brown pigment stones which form in infected bile and are made of calcium bilirubinate plus calcium fatty acid soaps.
- Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.
- The gallbladder can develop just one large stone, hundreds of tiny stones, or almost any combination.
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- Biliary colic—Pain caused by a gallstone stuck in the bile duct, a tube that carries bile to the small intestine.
- Cholangitis—An infection of the bile ducts.
- Gallstone pancreatitis—A gallstone blocks the opening to the pancreatic duct, and digestive enzymes become trapped in the pancreas causing extremely painful inflammation.
- Rare complications include:
- Gallbladder cancer
- Complete blockage of the common hepatic duct, which drains bile from the liver
- Gallstone ileus—The gallbladder attaches to the small intestine, creating an abnormal opening through which a large stone can travel and cause an obstruction of the small bowel
- Formation of opening from the gallbladder to other nearby structures, like the intestines.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 09/2017
- Update Date: 09/01/2017