The gall bladder is a small pear-shaped sac on the right side of the abdomen. It holds bile—a digestive juice produced by the liver, which is located just above it.
In the gall bladder, bile becomes more concentrated and the presence of fatty foods triggers the gall bladder to transfer its bile concentrate into the small intestine. This helps break down dietary fats.
Gallstones effect around 15 per cent of people aged 50 years and older. These small stones are a common disorder of the digestive system.
Made from cholesterol, bile pigment and calcium salts, gallstones can form as a result of the crystallisation of excess cholesterol in the bile and the failure of the gall bladder to empty completely.
In many cases, gallstones are not a problem. However, when they block ducts and cause complications, such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), prompt treatment would be needed.
Sometimes when gallstones, or gall bladder diseases, cause problems, the surgeons may remove the gall bladder (cholecystectomy). Many patients who have gallstones eventually have their gall bladders removed.
Surgical techniques include open surgery or laparoscopic (‘keyhole’) cholecystectomy. The gall bladder is not a vital organ, so your body can cope quite well without it.
Following a cholecystectomy, some digestive symptoms can persist until the body adjusts. After full healing, though, the symptoms disappear and, of course, gallstones are no longer a possibility.