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- Gallstones facts
- What are gallstones?
- What are gallstones? (Continued)
- What causes gallstones?
- What causes gallstones? (Part 2)
- What causes gallstones? (Part 3)
- Who is at risk for gallstones?
- What are the symptoms of gallstones?
- What are the complications of gallstones?
- What are the complications of gallstones? (Continued)
- What is the relationship of sludge to gallstones?
- How are gallstones diagnosed?
- How are gallstones diagnosed? (Part 2)
- How are gallstones diagnosed? (Part 3)
- How are gallstones diagnosed? (Part 4)
- How are gallstones diagnosed? (Part 5)
- What are the potential pitfalls of diagnosing gallstones?
- How are gallstones treated?
- Can gallstones be prevented?
- Can symptoms continue after gallstones are removed?
- What's new with gallstones?
What are the complications of gallstones?
Biliary colic is the most common symptom of gallstones, but, fortunately, it is usually a self-limiting symptom. There are, however, more serious complications of gallstones.
Cholecystitis means inflammation of the gallbladder. Like biliary colic, it too is caused by sudden obstruction of the ducts, usually the cystic duct by a gallstone. In fact, cholecystitis may begin with an episode of biliary colic. Obstruction of the cystic duct causes the wall of the gallbladder to begin secreting fluid just as with biliary colic, but for unclear reasons, inflammation sets in. At first the inflammation is sterile, that is, there is no infection with bacteria; however, over time the bile and gallbladder become infected with bacteria that travel through the bile ducts from the intestine.
With cholecystitis, there is constant pain in the right upper abdomen. Inflammation extends through the wall of the gallbladder, and the right upper abdomen becomes particularly tender when it is pressed or even tapped. Unlike with biliary colic, however, it is painful to move around. Individuals with cholecystitis usually lie still. There is fever, and the white blood cell count is elevated, both signs of inflammation. Cholecystitis usually is treated with antibiotics, and most episodes will resolve over several days. Even without antibiotics, cholecystitis often resolves. As with biliary colic, movement of the gallstone out of the cystic duct and back into the gallbladder relieves the obstruction and allows the inflammation to resolve.
Cholangitis is a condition in which bile in the common, hepatic, and intrahepatic ducts becomes infected. Like cholecystitis, the infection spreads through the ducts from the intestine after the ducts become obstructed by a gallstone. Patients with cholangitis are very sick with high fever and elevated white blood cell counts. Cholangitis may result in an abscess within the liver or sepsis. (See discussion of sepsis that follows.)
Gangrene of the gallbladder is a condition in which the inflammation of cholecystitis cuts off the supply of blood to the gallbladder. Without blood, the tissues forming the wall of the gallbladder die, and this makes the wall very weak. The weakness combined with infection often leads to rupture of the gallbladder. The infection then may spread throughout the abdomen, though often the rupture is confined to a small area around the gallbladder (a confined perforation).