Medical Definition of Bile

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Bile: Bile is a yellow-green fluid that is made by the liver, stored in the gallbladder and passes through the common bile duct into the duodenum where it helps digest fat. The principal components of bile are cholesterol, bile salts, and the pigment bilirubin.

An imbalance between these components of bile leads to the formation of gallstones. Gallstones can thus be composed of different materials. Cholesterol gallstones form when there is an imbalance between the amounts of cholesterol and the bile salts. Cholesterol is normally kept in liquid form by the dissolving action of the bile salts. An increased amount of cholesterol in the bile overwhelms the dissolving capacity of the bile salts and leads to the formation of cholesterol gallstones. Similarly, a deficiency of bile salts promotes cholesterol gallstone formation. Pigment gallstones are frequently associated with chronic infection in the bile, especially in certain Asian countries where parasitic infection of the bile ducts is common. Patients with blood diseases that cause excessive breakdown of red blood cells can have increased amounts of bilirubin (breakdown product of red cells) in the bile, thus causing bilirubin gallstone formation.

Reviewed on 12/4/2018

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