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What are Gallstones? - Definition, Formation & Causes

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

You have probably heard of gallstones but may not really know what they are. In this lesson, we will learn what gallstones are, how they form, and what causes them.

Do you Think it's Your Gallbladder?

Jane went to the mall with her best friends, Sally and Tina. Sally hadn't been feeling very good for the last couple of days. She was feeling nauseated and had some mild pain in her belly. She figured it was just something she ate and tried to ignore it. As the day went on, the pain was getting worse. Tina asked if she thought it was her gallbladder. She wasn't sure, but she did decide to go see her doctor.

The gallbladder is a small organ in the upper right part of your abdomen, right below your liver. It is a small pouch that holds bile that is produced by the liver. The bile is secreted into the small intestine to help your body digest fats.

The gallbladder is located right under the liver.

Before you eat a meal, your gallbladder is filled with bile and is about the size of a pear. After you eat a meal, it deflates like a balloon.

What are Gallstones?

Sally's doctor tells her that she has gallstones that are causing an infection in her gallbladder. He tells her that she needs to have surgery to remove her gallbladder.

Gallstones can form from the bile in the gallbladder. They aren't actually stones, and it isn't exactly known why they form. The bile in the gallbladder can crystallize, forming the gallstones. Surprisingly, gallstones are pretty common. They usually don't cause any problems, but just like in Sally's case, they can.

Some gallstones can be very small, and a person may never know they have them. Other people may develop many, large gallstones. The gallstones can block the ducts that allow bile to empty from the gallbladder and can cause an infection in the gallbladder.

You can live without your gallbladder and removing the gallbladder is generally the solution to any problems caused by gallstones.

Types of Gallstones

There are two different types of gallstones. Cholesterol gallstones are yellow in color and are the most common. It is estimated that 80% of gallstones are cholesterol gallstones. It is believed that these are caused by having high cholesterol content in your bile. The content of these stones are made up of mostly cholesterol.

Cholesterol Gallstones

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