Gallstones

The liver, which sits behind the lower ribs on the right side of the body, produces bile at a more or less constant rate. This bile moves through a series of collecting ducts, which join up to form the common bile duct. This duct leads to the small intestine. There is a side duct to the common bile duct that leads to the gall bladder.

Bile is required to help in the digestion of food, but as we do not eat constantly, it is not needed in the gut all the time. There is a valve at the lower end of the common bile duct where it opens into the intestine. This valve opens when food passes to allow bile to be added to the food in the gut. When the valve is closed, the bile must be stored, and this is where the gall bladder fits in to the picture.

The gall bladder is a storage area for bile that is not immediately required, and the bile from the liver is directed into it when the valve is closed. When extra bile is required in the gut to digest food, the gall bladder contracts to squeeze the bile out through the open valve onto the food.

If the gall bladder is removed, the bile trickles into the gut constantly, and although not an ideal situation, the bile and food will eventually mix together, and digestion will occur, with minimal consequences to you or your gut.

The development of one or more stones in the gall bladder is called cholelethiasis.

The liver produces bile, which is stored in the gall bladder. Bile is required to help in the digestion of food, and when this is required in the gut, the gall bladder contracts to squeeze out the bile. If the bile becomes too concentrated it may precipitate out as a stone. Up to 10% of men over 60 years of age, and 20% of women over 60 have some gallstones.

(Last modified: 22nd Sep 2014)

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