What is Gallstone Disease?

The gallbladder is located under the surface of the liver, bound by vessels, connective tissue, and lymphatics. It has four regions: the fundus, body, infundibulum, and neck. The gallbladder terminates in the cystic duct and then enters the extrahepatic biliary tree. The fundus is the round, blind edge of the organ. It is composed of fibrotic tissue and projects just beyond the right lobe of the liver. The fundus leads to the body of the gallbladder, the largest part.

The superior surface of the body is attached to the visceral surface of the liver unless a mesentery is present. This close relationship allows for the direct spread of inflammation, infection, or neoplasia into the liver parenchyma. The infundibulum is the tapering area of the gallbladder between the body and neck. This portion and the free surface of the body of the gallbladder lie close to the first and second portions of the duodenum, and near the hepatic flexure and right third of the transverse colon. The infundibulum is attached to the right transverse colon surface of the second part of the duodenum by the cholecystoduodenal ligament.

The neck of the gallbladder is 5 to 7 mm in diameter and often forms an S-shaped curve. It is superior and to the left, narrowing into a constriction at the junction with the cystic duct.


The following are the most common symptoms of gallstones depending upon gallstone pain area:

  • Pain or tenderness under the rib cage on the right side
  • Pain between shoulder blades
  • Stools light or chalky colored
  • Fatty stools
  • Indigestion after eating, especially the fatty foods
  • Burping or belching
  • The feeling of fullness or food not digesting
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation or frequent use of laxatives
  • Headache over eyes, especially right
  • Bitter fluid comes up after eating


The following are the most common causes of gallstone disease:


The incidence of gallstone disease increases with age. The symptomatic calculous disease of the biliary tract is rare before the age of 20, and when found in this group, it is common among patients with chronic predisposing conditions such as cystic fibrosis or hemolytic anemia.


Many drugs have been implicated in gallstone disease. The most common offenders include ceftriaxone, clofibrate, oral contraceptives, estrogen replacement, progestogens, and octreotide. Some drugs are secreted into bile and may complex, precipitate, and form stones. Other compounds can produce gallbladder stasis with concomitant increases in cholesterol secretion into bile.


The prevalence of gallstones is higher in women than in men. Studies have shown that gallstone disease is common in young women but rare in young men. However, the difference narrows with increasing age. It is presumed that the reason for this gender difference is hormonal. Serum estrogen increases (especially during pregnancy) promote biliary cholesterol saturation and increased progesterone may lead to inhibition of the contraction of the gallbladder.

Geography and Ethnicity

The Pima Indians of Arizona have the highest prevalence of gallstones worldwide. Ninety percent of Pima women over the age of 65 have gallstone disease. The Micmac Indians of Canada, Hispanics, and Mexican American women also have a higher prevalence of gallstone disease, as do both men and women in Norway and Chile. The risk appears to be lower in blacks. No genes have been identified in humans that are conclusively linked to gallstone development.


Obesity is a significant risk factor for gallstone disease, especially in women. Studies have demonstrated that overweight women with a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2 have double the risk of gallstone disease when compared with normal-weight women with less than 25 kg/m2. Cholesterol hypersecretion(associated with obesity) is a major pathogenic factor. Gallstone disease has also been associated with the regional distribution of fat. High central or truncal adiposity has been positively correlated with the risk of gallstone disease. Physical activity and diet have been studied independently as risk factors for gallstone disease. Increased vigorous physical activity and recreational activity appear to reduce gallstone disease risk.

Weight Loss

An increased risk of gallstone disease may be found among individuals who undergo rapid weight loss on very low-calorie diets. Gallstone formation is one of the most significant complications of voluntary weight loss plans. In these instances, cholesterol is activated from adipose tissue and secreted into the bile. This leads to cholesterol supersaturation and diminishes gallbladder contraction, producing stasis. Studies have shown that individuals on weight loss plans, either dramatically reduced-calorie diets or surgical weight-loss procedures, have a higher incidence of development of gallstone disease when compared to those who are not dieting. Weight fluctuation may also be a risk factor.


The physical exam in patients with gallstone-related symptoms can often be completely normal. However, sometimes a gallbladder can be palpated and there may be right subcostal tenderness with inspiratory arrest (Murphy’s sign), which is suggestive of acute cholecystitis. There are several diagnostic tests available to detect stones


An ultrasound test which is also known as ultrasonography uses sound waves to detect the gallstones in the gallbladder. Generally, to detect the gallstones, pulses of sound waves are sent into the abdomen to create an image of the gallbladder. If gallstones are present, the sound waves will bounce off the stones, revealing their location in the gallbladder. Ultrasonography is a non-invasive technique, which means nothing is injected into the body or penetrates the body. In addition, ultrasound is painless and eliminates exposure to radiation from X-rays.


Three different tests use X-rays to examine the gallbladder, which is as follows:

Oral Cholecystography

Oral Cholecystography is commonly used to detect gallstones in the gallbladder. The procedure requires a patient to swallow pills containing a dye the night before X-rays are taken. This dye is absorbed into the bile and outlines on Z-ray film the gallbladder and any stones that may be present. Oral Cholecystography is now rarely performed because it has been largely replaced by ultrasound of the gallbladder. Risks of Oral Cholecystography include cellular damage from radiation exposure from X-rays. Also, this procedure should not be used for patients who have severe kidney or liver damage.

PTC (Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography)

In PTC the dye is injected through a very thin tube which is called a catheter. The injected dye outlines the network of bile ducts when an X-ray picture of the abdomen is taken and thus can detect stones lodged in the bile ducts. Complications of the dye include leaking from the liver into the abdomen and also increased the risk of bleeding or puncture of the vessels with a catheter.

ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography)

ERCP is an invasive procedure that will involve the use of an endoscope. An endoscope is a long, flexible tube through which a doctor can directly view the digestive tract.


Patients who are suffering from gallstones should get that treated to avoid any emergency conditions.

Natural Treatment for Gallstones

Wondering how to dissolve gallstones naturally, follow these precious tips to cure gallstones by natural treatment.

  • Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
  • Avoid Rapid Weight Loss and Fad Diets
  • Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet that Supports Liver and Gallbladder Health
  • Be More Active
  • Reconsider Taking Birth Control Pills or Unnecessary Medications

Surgical Treatment for Gallstones

Gallstones will not go away on their own. The doctor may suggest removing the gallbladder if the gallstones start to cause other symptoms. This type of surgery is called a cholecystectomy. It’s one of the most common surgeries doctors perform. About 80% of people who have gallstones will need surgery.

Gallstones Surgery

Doctors may remove the gallbladder in any one of the following ways: Open surgery, Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery

Open Surgery

During open surgery, the surgeon will make a 5 to 7-inch incision on the belly to take out the gallbladder. The patient need’s open surgery if the patient has a bleeding disorder. The patient may also need this surgery if they have severe gallbladder disease. The patient is overweight or is in the last trimester of pregnancy.

Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy

Generally, this surgical procedure is also called keyhole surgery. This means the surgeon will make a few very tiny holes to perform the surgery (the size of a keyhole). He makes four small cuts. He inserts a very thin, flexible tube that contains a light and a tiny video camera into the belly. These help the surgeon see the gallbladder better. Next, he will insert special tools to remove the diseased organ.

Risk Factors

Several factors make people more susceptible to developing gallstones, including their diet, age, gender, body composition, and genetics. Gallstones are most common in:

  • Women
  • Over 40 years people
  • Overweight or obese people

Other risk factors for gallstones include

  • Eating a poor diet
  • Losing weight too quickly (for example, fasting and going long periods without eating)
  • Pregnancy
  • High triglycerides
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Family history of gallstones
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol

Gallstones Diet

Foods To Be Taken
Foods To Be Avoided
Low-fat food Foods that are fried, like french fries and potato chips
High fiber foods like brown rice and wholemeal bread can help to make stools more firm High-fat meats, such as bacon, bologna, sausage, ground beef, and ribs
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains High-fat dairy products, such as cheese, ice cream, cream, whole milk, and sour cream
Caffeine-free drinks Pizza
Low sugar foods and drinks Foods made with lard or butter
Less spicy foods Creamy soups or sauces
Avocados – a good way to get needed fats directly from food Meat gravies
Garlic helps with liver cleansing but not processed types like flakes or powder. Some people have difficulty with it but is usually ok and even helpful. Just pay attention to your own body with this one Chocolate
Omega 3 oils like flax or hemp. Use these with fresh lemon juice or vinegar on your salads. DO NOT COOK flax oil. Oils such as palm and coconut oil
Grapes, apples, berries, papaya, pears, pomegranates, watermelon, and fresh organic grape juice The skin of chicken or turkey

Symptoms After Gallbladder Removal

  • Mild pain
  • Gas and bloating, distension
  • Burping, belching
  • Feelings of fullness
  • Heartburn, often worse
  • Acid and bile reflux
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dumping syndrome
  • Weight gain

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I function without a gallbladder?

Yes, you can. The bile will still be produced in the liver and find its way to the small intestine. It will continue to break down the dietary fats and remove toxins from the liver. What is different is that the bile will no longer be as concentrated (the gallbladder removes 90% of the water from the bile) and its function as a regulator will be gone. Some people have no problem with this at all; others have problems with getting the right amount of bile at the right time, either too much or too little.

2. Can I have any fats since my gallbladder was removed?

You cannot live without fats. Every cell membrane in your body is made of fat. Fats feed the brain, and many hormones are made with fat. What is important is what kind of fats you are eating. Avoid fried foods, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats, and refined oils. Instead of these, try to use unrefined virgin olive oil or flax oil in your food. Avoid cheese and dairy in general. Unless your gallbladder was defective in some way, the reason you had it removed is more related to your eating habits, or the state of your liver. Your diet should be the same whether you have had your gallbladder removed or not. It is very important to maintain a diet that helps your liver digest fats properly and that helps the liver to do its job of filtering toxins. It is also important to give it the tools it needs to do its job, i.e. real nutrients, and to avoid piling up its workload by eating highly processed food, preservatives, bad fats, and other toxic foods. Avoid eating at fast-food restaurants, and ask about oils used even at good restaurants.

3. Is gallbladder health hereditary?

Current thought believes gallbladder health to be hereditary, yet it is equally important to acknowledge the role of inherited dietary habits in the functioning of the gallbladder.

4. Why is it common in women?

Women are twice as likely as men to develop gallstones, especially in ladies who have had children. The main reason is the female hormone, estrogen. Excess estrogen from pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, and birth control pills can potentially increase cholesterol levels in bile and decrease gallbladder movement, which then leads to gallstones.

5. What age is it most likely affected?

Besides people who are obese and females, especially those who have had children, those who are forty (40) or older also have an increased risk of gallstones.

6. What is the recovery time?

Post laparoscopic removal of the gallbladder, most patients usually stay for one night. Most of them can return to work within a week. They can also resume most of their social activities in a week.

7. If a doctor suspects a gallstone how is it diagnosed?

The best test to diagnose gallstones is the ultrasound. It is non-invasive and has no radiation risk. We have other methods also to diagnose gallstones.

8. Is it ever life-threatening having a gallstone?

Yes, but it a very rare to have emergency complications. The gallstone may block up the duct of the gallbladder and cause gallbladder infection, also known as acute cholecystitis. A severe form of infection may lead to gangrene of the gallbladder. Sometimes the gallstone may slip into the common bile duct and obstruct the bile duct which causes jaundice. If the obstructed ducts get infected, also called cholangitis, this may lead to death.