What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small sac located on the right-hand side of the body, on the underside of the liver. Gall (bile) is a greenish-brown liquid which the liver produces. Gall is stored and concentrated in the gallbladder. Gall goes into the small intestine via the bile ducts to facilitate the digestion, mainly of fats. Every time we eat some gall is released into the intestines. The bile duct is a narrow tube.


What are gallstones?

When the chemicals in the gallbladder, cholesterol, calcium bilirubinate, and calcium carbonate are out of balance gallstones may form.

There are two main types of gallstones:

  • Cholesterol gallstones – these may form if there is too much cholesterol in the bile?
  • Pigment gallstones – these form when the bile has too much bilirubin. They are more common among patients who have liver disease, infected bile tubes or blood disorders, such as sickle-cell anemia.

Causes of gallstones

Experts are not completely sure why some people develop a chemical imbalance in their gallbladder which causes gallstones, while others do not. However, we do know that gallstones are more common among:

  • Overweight/obese people, especially women. A study revealed that a bulging midriff almost doubles a woman’s chances of developing gallstones and the need for surgery to remove them.Obese children have a considerably higher risk of developing gallstones, compared to kids of normal weight, researchers from Kaiser Permanents reported in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition (August 2012 issue).
  • Women who have been pregnant
  • People who have recently lost lots of weight
  • Intentionally losing weight and then regaining it may increase men’s risk for gallstones later in life
  • Women taking oral contraceptives
  • Women undergoing high-dose estrogen therapy
  • People with a close relative who has had gallstones
  • A study revealed that a gene variant significantly increases the risk of developing gallstones
  • People whose intake of dietary fat is high
  • Twice as many women get gallstones than men
  • People over 60 years of age
  • Native American Indians
  • People who take statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs)
  • People with diabetes
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women during the menopause is linked to a higher risk of gallbladder problems. A study found that HRT administered by skin patches or gels poses a smaller risk than HRT given orally.

Symptoms of gallstones

The majority of people with gallstones have no symptoms at all. This is because the stones generally stay in the gallbladder and cause no problems. Sometimes, however, gallstones may lead to cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder).