Gallstones? Mr Peter Goodfellow answers your FAQs
Mr Peter Goodfellow, Consultant General & Colorectal Surgeon
Claremont Clinics: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
What is the gallbladder and gallstones?
The gallbladder is a small, pouch-like organ found underneath the liver and gallstones are small stones that can form in the gallbladder. Most gallstones contain cholesterol and can be tiny, like grains of sand, or several centimetres large. Gallstones are common in Western society with 5-20% of the population developing gallstones. However for many they cause no symptoms and most are unaware they have them. A proportion of people with gallstones do go on to develop problems, typically with pain from the gallbladder (biliary colic) or inflammation (cholecystitis).
What causes gallstones?
The main purpose of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile (a liquid to help you digest fats). Gallstones are thought to develop because of an imbalance in the chemical make-up of bile inside the gallbladder. In most cases the levels of cholesterol in bile become too high and the excess cholesterol forms into stones. You're more at risk of developing gallstones if you are overweight, female or over 40 years old.
What are the symptoms of gallstones?
Most cases of gallstones don't cause any symptoms. But if a gallstone becomes trapped in a duct (tube connecting to the gallbladder) or irritates the inside of the gallbladder it can cause a sudden severe abdominal (tummy) pain.
The pain can be felt:
- In the midline of your abdomen (tummy), above the umbilicus (belly button)
- Just under the ribs on your right-hand side – it may spread from here to your side or shoulder blade
The pain is sometimes triggered by eating fatty foods, but may occur at any time of day and it may wake you up during the night. Some people with gallstones can also develop complications such as inflammation of the gallbladder, or if they pass a stone into one of the ducts that connect the gallbladder to the bowel, and these can cause:
- Persistent pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
How can you treating gallstones?
Treatment is only necessary if gallstones are causing:
- symptoms – such as abdominal pain
- complications – such as jaundice or pancreatitis (a serious condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed over a short period of time). The pancreas is a small organ located behind the stomach.
In these cases, surgery to remove the stone or the gallbladder may be recommended. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms described above you should make an appointment with your GP.
I need gall bladder surgery, what does that mean?
Once causing symptoms most doctors recommend gall bladder surgery. Gallbladder surgery is usually performed as keyhole surgery under general anaesthetic. It is usually performed as a daycase so patients are able to go home the same day. There are around 1 in 50 patients where the surgery cannot be performed by keyholes and an open incision is needed, which usually leads to 3-4 days in hospital. After keyhole surgery most patients are able to go back to work after 3 weeks.
Are there any complications?
As with all procedures, some complications may occur. Minor bleeds and infections can occur related to the wounds and occur in around 1 in 20 people, however these usually settle with antibiotics alone. Your surgeon will go through all other risks with you prior to surgery.
If you don't have health insurance, a private consultation with Mr Goodfellow at Claremont costs £200. For more information or to book an appointment with Mr Goodfellow, just call our Private Patient Team on 0114 263 2114. You will need a referral letter from your GP or you can see one of our Private GPs if you prefer to see Mr Goodfellow.
Copyright Peter Goodfellow, 2018