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Gallstones

Gallbladder stones

Gallstones are small stones in the gallbladder which can block a duct inside it, causing a sudden, sharp abdominal pain.

About

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ beneath your liver. It stores bile, which helps your body digest fat. Sometimes gallstones (small stones of cholesterol) develop in the gallbladder or nearby bile duct. When this happens, most people have no symptoms but it can lead to biliary colic or other symptoms like pancreatitis and jaundice. Gallstones causing symptoms are usually treated with surgery.
 

Need to know

  • Symptoms of gallstones icon plus

    Most gallstones are made up of cholesterol but can also form from bile or calcium. They're more common the older you get and affect women more than men. Pregnancy, obesity and rapid weight loss are also risk factors. Possible symptoms of gallstones are:

    • Biliary colic (severe abdominal pain) caused by your gallbladder squeezing to dislodge a stone
    • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), caused by infection and can lead to pain and fever
    • Jaundice, where your eyes and skin turn yellow, your urine dark
    • Acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
    • Other complications include severe infection of the bile duct and bowel obstruction
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    Your consultant may carry out the Murphy's sign test. Their hand or fingers are placed on the upper right area of your abdomen and you'll be asked to breathe in. If this hurts, it usually means your gallbladder is inflamed.

    Blood tests can detect infection, or that your liver may not be working normally ‒ a sign that gallstones have moved into your bile duct.

    An ultrasound is the most effective at diagnosing gallstones. Gallstones can also show in routine X-rays, and MRI or CT scans. A type of MRI called MRCP is used to look at the bile ducts to see if the gallstones have moved into your bile duct.

    A HIDA scan can be used to look at the function of the gallbladder and bile ducts
     
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Usually, gallstones require treatment only if they've led to symptoms. If your consultant thinks treatment is necessary, they'll discuss your options with you. These may include:

    • Medicines. Ursodeoxycholic acid may be prescribed to dissolve smaller stones
    • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy. A key-hole surgical procedure to remove your gallbladder. If a stone has moved from your gallbladder to your bile duct, another procedure may be necessary
    • Endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography (ERCP). A procedure that can be used to remove gallstones from the bile duct
    • A healthy, balanced diet. If surgery isn't recommended or you want to avoid it
Consultant with patient

Our consultants

From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

Our facilities

From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

  • facility-pgh-hero-579x579

    The Princess Grace Hospital

    42-52 Nottingham Place

    London W1U 5NY

    Appointments 020 3131 7216
    Enquiries 020 3130 6833

  • Wellington-south-hero-facility-582-582

    The Wellington Hospital

    Wellington Place

    London NW8 9LE

    Appointments 0207 483 5148
    Enquiries 020 3131 7478

  • London Bridge Hospital Facility

    London Bridge Hospital

    27 Tooley Street

    London

    SE1 2PR

    Appointments and Enquiries 020 7234 2009
    Imaging Appointments 020 7234 2773
    Switchboard 020 7407 3100

  • facility-HSC-flag-hero-582x582

    The Harley Street Clinic

    35 Weymouth Street

    London

    W1G 8BJ

    Appointments 020 7034 8181
    Enquiries 020 3131 7962

  • The Lister Hospital Facility

    The Lister Hospital

    Chelsea Bridge Road

    London

    SW1W 8RH

    Appointments 020 7811 4000
    Enquiries 020 3131 4978

  • The Portland Hospital Facility

    The Portland Hospital

    205 - 209 Great Portland Street

    London

    W1W 5AH

    Children's enquiries 020 7390 8020
    Maternity enquiries 020 7390 6068
    Gynaecology enquiries 020 7390 6200

  • Male-receptionist-greets-male-visitor

    London Digestive Centre

    41 Welbeck Street

    London

    W1G 8DU

    Call 020 3813 9497
    Opening hours Monday - Friday: 8am - 8pm

Request an appointment

We're happy to help you make an appointment with one of our experienced consultants.

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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