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Gall Stones

Gall stones are solid lumps or stones that form in the gallbladder or bile duct. The gallbladder stores bile which is released during digestion into the small intestine to break down fatty acids in the food. The chemicals in the bile sometimes harden forming stones.

Gall stones are very common and may not cause any problems, in which case treatment is not needed. However, they may irritate the lining of the gallbladder or get stuck in the bile duct causing acute abdominal pain that:   

  • develops quickly 
  • is severe 
  • lasts typically about one to three hours before fading gradually 
  • does not respond to antacids or pain killers 

Other symptoms include:

  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • sweating
  • restlessness
  • yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)

With any of the above symptoms, a GP should be consulted.  If gall stones are suspected, a scan is required to locate them.  If found and causing problems, they should be removed to prevent possible infections and blockages of the digestive tract.  Various types of treatment are available:

  • medicines to dissolve the stones, however that may take a long time to work  
  • shock-wave lithotripsy to break up the stones and make them easier to dissolve with medicines  
  • keyhole surgery done under general anaesthesia as a day case 
  • open surgery, if keyhole is not appropriate, requiring a much longer recovery period 
  • endoscopy in which a narrow tube with a tiny camera (endoscope) is put down the mouth into the bile duct to remove any stones.  This is often done in addition to having surgery

Gall stones can occur at any age although they are more common in women than men.  The chances of developing stones are increased if there is a family history.  Obesity, diabetes, liver disease, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and Crohn's disease are also risk factors.

 
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