Gallstones – FAQs

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are small spherical stones that develop in the bile (a detergent produced by the liver to digest fat) stored in the gall bladder.

Why do gallstones develop?

Gallstones may develop for several reasons including family history, female sex, history of using the contraceptive pill and history of certain rare types of anaemia.

Are gallstones dangerous?

Gallstones are incredibly common in the general population and many people do not get any symptoms from them. However they can cause several problems, including:

  • inflamed gallbladder (acute cholecystitis)
  • recurrent pain after eating (biliary colic)
  • yellow jaundice (due to obstruction of the bile duct in the liver)
  • bile duct infection (acute cholangitis)
  • inflamed pancreas (acute pancreatitis)

Infections and pancreatitis due to gallstones usually result in emergency hospital admission and can be serious.

How are gallstones treated?

The only definitive option to prevent recurrence of these problems if they occur is to remove the gallbladder (containing the stones) as a surgical procedure. This can usually be performed as keyhole surgery (laparoscopic cholecystectomy), and as a day case in selected individuals.

Can I live without my gallbladder?

Fortunately it is possible to live normally without your gallbladder. Some people develop mild diarrhoea after surgery but this usually settles with time. Occasionally symptoms that were thought to be due to the gallstones persist after surgery and eventually found to be related to another cause.