Gallstones and Bile Duct Stones

What are Gallstones and Bile Duct Stones?

Gallstones and bile duct stones are hardened deposits of bile pigments, calcium, and cholesterol salts that form in the common bile duct, which is a small tube like structure that carries bile from the gallbladder to the intestine, and in the gallbladder.

These stones cause biliary colic, a very specific type of pain that occurs when the bile duct is partially obstructed. Duct dilation, jaundice (yellow discoloration of skin and eyes) and eventually cholangitis can occur. Cholangitis is a bacterial infection of the common bile duct that occurs when there is complete obstruction of the duct.

Abdominal US, abdominal CT, and MRCP are used to diagnose bile duct stones.

Symptoms of gallstones and bile duct stones can include:

  • Sharp, intermittent pain in the right upper or middle upper abdomen
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

It’s not clear what causes them, but doctors think they can result when:

  • You have too much cholesterol in your bile
  • You have too much of a natural chemical, bilirubin, that occurs when your body breaks down red blood cells
  • Your gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly
    There are also two types of stones. They include:
  • Cholesterol stones appear yellow in color and are formed by excess cholesterol and other components
  • Pigment stones, formed when bile contains too much bilirubin

Gallstones and bile duct stones can be diagnosed using:

  • Abdominal computed tomography (CT) or ultrasound scans are used to diagnose bile duct stones
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) combines endoscopy and fluoroscopy to diagnose bile ducts

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Sphincterotomy, a new endoscopic technique developed to treat problems in the gall bladder, pancreas, and bile ducts. It is the surgical cutting of the muscle in the common bile duct.
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