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How Do Gallstones Form?


Updated May 01, 2014

Question: How Do Gallstones Form?
The gallbladder is a storage place for bile which is a liquid produced in the liver. The normal function of bile is to help your body digest fats.
Answer: After eating fats, as your body begins the digestive process, your gallbladder contracts and pushes the stored bile into the common bile duct, which brings the liquid to your small intestine to aid digestion. Gallstones form when the liquid bile hardens and changes to hard pieces of stone-like material which then can block the common bile duct causing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, or what is often called a gallbladder attack.

Eighty percent of gallstones are classified as either cholesterol stones or pigment stones.

Cholesterol Stones: The medical community’s current belief is that cholesterol stones are the result of bile that is made of too much cholesterol or bilirubin and not enough bile salts. Cholesterol stones may also form when the gallbladder fails to properly empty during the digestive process.

Pigment Stones: Medical science remains unsure of what causes pigment stones in the gallbladder. Those who develop pigment stones most often include people who have cirrhosis of the liver, biliary tract infections, and hereditary blood disorders that include sickle cell anemia. These are all conditions that lead to the formation of too much bilirubin.

Reference: NIH Publication No. 05–2897

Published: 03/14/06

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