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A gallstone’s size varies and may be as small as a sand grain or as large as a golf ball (Balentine 2007; Haggerty 2002). The gallbladder may develop a single, often large, stone or many smaller ones.
Gallstones have different appearance, depending on their contents. On the basis of their contents, gallstones can be subdivided into the two following basic types:
- Cholesterol stones are usually green, but are sometimes white or yellow in color. They are made primarily of cholesterol.
- Pigment stones are small, dark stones made of bilirubin and calcium salts that are found in bile. They account for 20 percent of gallstones. Risk factors for pigment stones include hemolytic anemia, cirrhosis, biliary tract infections, and hereditary blood cell disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and spherocytosis.
Mixed stones account for the majority of stones. Most of these are a mixture of cholesterol and calcium salts. Because of their calcium content, they can often be visualized radiographically.
Pseudolithiasis (“fake stone”) is a condition of sludge-like gallbladder secretions that act like a stone.