Gallstones (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What are gallstones?

Gallstones (often misspelled as gall stones, or gall stone) are stones that form in the gall (bile) within the gallbladder. (The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ just below the liver that stores bile secreted by the liver.)

  • Bile is a watery liquid made by the cells of the liver that is important for digesting food in the intestine, particularly fat.
  • Liver cells secrete the bile into small canals within the liver.
  • The bile flows through the canals and into larger collecting ducts within the liver (the intrahepatic bile ducts).
  • The bile then flows through the intrahepatic bile ducts out of the liver and into the extrahepatic bile ducts-first into the hepatic bile ducts, then into the common hepatic duct, and finally into the common bile duct.

From the common bile duct, there are two different directions that bile can flow.

  • The first direction is through the common bile duct and directly into the intestine where the bile mixes with food and promotes digestion of food.
  • The second direction is into and offshoot of the common bile duct, the cystic duct, and from there into the gallbladder (often misspelled as gall bladder).

Once in the gallbladder, bile is concentrated by the removal (absorption) of water. During a meal, the muscle that makes up the wall of the gallbladder contracts and squeezes the concentrated bile in the gallbladder back through the cystic duct into the common duct and then into the intestine. (Concentrated bile is much more effective for digestion than the un-concentrated bile that goes from the liver straight into the intestine.) The timing of gallbladder contraction-during a meal-allows the concentrated bile from the gallbladder to mix with food.

Gallstones usually form in the gallbladder; however, they also may form anywhere there is bile; in the intrahepatic, hepatic, common bile, and cystic ducts.

Gallstones also may move about in the bile, for example, from the gallbladder into the cystic or the common duct.

Illustration of Gallstones forming in the Gallbladder
Illustration of Gallstones forming in the Gallbladder
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/11/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Gallstones - Symptoms Question: For gallstones, what were the symptoms and signs you experienced?
Gallstones - Treatments Question: What treatment has been effective for your gallstones?
Gallstones - Causes Question: If known, describe the causes of your gallstones. Have any relatives had problems with gallstones?
Gallstones - Complications Question: Have you ever had any complications of gallstones? If so, what were they?
Gallstones - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with gallstones.

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!