Cholelithiasis

ExitCare ImageCholelithiasis (also called gallstones) is a form of gallbladder disease in which gallstones form in your gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile made in the liver, which helps digest fats. Gallstones begin as small crystals and slowly grow into stones. Gallstone pain occurs when the gallbladder spasms and a gallstone is blocking the duct. Pain can also occur when a stone passes out of the duct.

RISK FACTORS

  • Being female.  

  • Having multiple pregnancies. Health care providers sometimes advise removing diseased gallbladders before future pregnancies.  

  • Being obese.

  • Eating a diet heavy in fried foods and fat.  

  • Being older than 60 years and increasing age.  

  • Prolonged use of medicines containing female hormones.  

  • Having diabetes mellitus.  

  • Rapidly losing weight.  

  • Having a family history of gallstones (heredity).  

SYMPTOMS

  • Nausea.  

  • Vomiting.

  • Abdominal pain.  

  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice).  

  • Sudden pain. It may persist from several minutes to several hours.

  • Fever.  

  • Tenderness to the touch. 

In some cases, when gallstones do not move into the bile duct, people have no pain or symptoms. These are called "silent" gallstones.

TREATMENT

Silent gallstones do not need treatment. In severe cases, emergency surgery may be required. Options for treatment include:

  • Surgery to remove the gallbladder. This is the most common treatment.

  • Medicines. These do not always work and may take 6–12 months or more to work.

  • Shock wave treatment (extracorporeal biliary lithotripsy). In this treatment an ultrasound machine sends shock waves to the gallbladder to break gallstones into smaller pieces that can pass into the intestines or be dissolved by medicine.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your health care provider.  

  • Follow a low-fat diet until seen again by your health care provider. Fat causes the gallbladder to contract, which can result in pain.  

  • Follow up with your health care provider as directed. Attacks are almost always recurrent and surgery is usually required for permanent treatment.  

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your pain increases and is not controlled by medicines.  

  • You have a fever or persistent symptoms for more than 2–3 days.  

  • You have a fever and your symptoms suddenly get worse.  

  • You have persistent nausea and vomiting.  

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.