A gallstone is a solid crystalline mass that forms within the body by accretion or concretion of normal or abnormal bile components. Gallstones most commonly form in the gallbladder, but can occur anywhere within the biliary tree, including the common bile duct that leads into the first portion of the small intestine. Gallstones vary in size, ranging from being as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball, and also vary in chemical composition. Eighty percent is composed of cholesterol, but bile pigments and calcium salts also involved (Haggerty 2002). Gallstones can migrate to various parts of the digestive system and cause severe pain and life-threatening complications (Haggerty 2002).
Gallstones are the fifth most common cause of hospitalization in the United States. With about twenty percent of people over 60 having either one large stone. OR even several thousand small ones (Haggerty 2002). However, only about one to three percent develop symptoms (Balentine 2007). Gallstones are the most common disease of the gallbladder and bile duct (Haggery 2002).
Gallstones result from the alteration in the chemical composition of bile, such as an excessive increase in concentration of cholesterol (Breslow 2002; Haggerty 2002). Among risk factors are estrogen levels (such as during pregnancy), diabetes, high blood cholesterollevels, smoking, and obesity (Kent 2002). Dietary factors also is suggested, such as a diet high in fats and low in fiber (Haggerty 2002; Kent 2002).
Among treatment options are surgery (including removal of the gallbladder), dissolving of the stones, alternative medicine (acupuncture, Chinese traditional medicine, and so on), and lifestyle changes (dietary changes, exercise, among other).