Gallstones are small, pebble-like substances that develop in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac located below your liver in the right upper abdomen. Gallstones form when liquid stored in the gallbladder hardens into pieces of stone-like material. The liquid—called bile—helps the body digest fats. Bile is made in the liver, then stored in the gallbladder until the body needs it. The gallbladder contracts and pushes the bile into a tube—called the common bile duct—that carries it to the small intestine, where it helps with digestion.
Symptoms and diagnosis
As gallstones move into the bile ducts and create blockage, pressure increases in the gallbladder and one or more symptoms may occur. Symptoms of blocked bile ducts are often called a gallbladder “attack” because they occur suddenly. Gallbladder attacks often follow fatty meals, and they may occur during the night. A typical attack can cause:
- steady pain in the right upper abdomen that increases rapidly and lasts from 30 minutes to several hours
- pain in the back between the shoulder blades
- pain under the right shoulder
Diagnosis is usually by an ultrasound scan, but other tests such as CT scanning and MRI scanning may also be needed
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy This keyhole surgery is most commonly used in gallbladder removal and is done under general anaesthesia, often as a day case. A laparoscope (a long, thin telescope with a light and camera lens at the tip) is inserted through a small cut near your navel. Specially adapted surgical instruments are then inserted through some more small cuts to remove the gallbladder. The operation lasts around 60 minutes. At the end of the operation, the instruments are removed and the wounds are closed with stitches or clips.
Open cholecystectomy surgery This is sometimes used if keyhole surgery isn't possible and involves the removal of the gallbladder through a larger cut in your abdomen (tummy). This type of surgery is done under general anaesthesia. Open cholecystectomy surgery has a longer recovery time than keyhole surgery, and you may need to spend a day or two in hospital to recover.