The gallbladder is a digestive organ on the right side of the body, right under the liver. Its job is to store the bile that the liver makes. Bile is a fluid that the body needs for digesting fats. Sometimes the liver makes more cholesterol and bile salts than the body can use, and gallstones are formed. The stones can be tiny like a grain of salt, or as big as a ping pong ball. Stones are usually asymptomatic and may be discovered when undergoing tests for other health issues. The cholesterol stones are yellow, or yellow-white in color, while bile salts form dark stones, called pigment stones.
Doctors are still not sure why gallstones form, however, certain factors increase the risk for gallstones. The common risk factors for gallstones are diet, age and ethnicity. Caucasian women over 40 are in the highest risk category for gallstones. Gallstones can sometimes leave the gallbladder and move into or block the biliary ducts. This may bring on an attack. A gallbladder attack is excruciatingly painful. There may be severe pain in the abdomen, or the pain can be referred to the shoulder, or between the shoulder blades. If the stone causes a backup of bile, medical treatment is necessary to remove the stone.
The common surgical treatment for gallstones is a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Small incisions are made in the abdomen and the gallbladder is removed through them. Surgery is quick, and healing time is reduced because the abdomen muscles do not need to be cut. Other methods can be used, but are reserved for special circumstances. If for some reason the patient cannot have surgery, medicine can be taken to dissolve the stones. Another procedure uses shock waves to break up the stones for easier passage. Fortunately, the body can still function after the gallbladder has been taken out. The liver produces enough bile for digestion. However, instead of getting stored in the gallbladder, the bile goes right into the small intestine.