Gallbladder Gallstones (Calculi)


Article Author:
Mark Jones


Article Editor:
Sassan Ghassemzadeh


Editors In Chief:
Kranthi Sitammagari
Mayank Singhal


Managing Editors:
Avais Raja
Orawan Chaigasame
Carrie Smith
Abdul Waheed
Khalid Alsayouri
Frank Smeeks
Kristina Soman-Faulkner
Trevor Nezwek
Radia Jamil
Patrick Le
Sobhan Daneshfar
Anoosh Zafar Gondal
Saad Nazir
William Gossman
Pritesh Sheth
Hassam Zulfiqar
Navid Mahabadi
Steve Bhimji
John Shell
Matthew Varacallo
Heba Mahdy
Ahmad Malik
Mark Pellegrini
James Hughes
Beata Beatty
Nazia Sadiq
Hajira Basit
Phillip Hynes
Tehmina Warsi


Updated:
3/21/2019 8:10:02 PM

Introduction

Gallstones or cholelithiasis are responsible for one of the most prevalent digestive disorders in the United States. They are considered a disease of developed populations but are present around the world. It is both the result of a chronic disease process and the cause of subsequent acute disorders of the pancreatic, biliary, hepatic and gastrointestinal tract. Over 6.3 million females and 14.2 million males in the United States between the ages of 20 and 74 have gallstones. Most patients with gallstones are asymptomatic but 10% of patients will develop symptoms within 5 years, and 20% of patients will develop symptoms within 20 years of diagnosing gallstones. Gallstone prevalence also increases with age. Over one-quarter of females older than the age of 60 will have gallstones. Gallstones have various compositions and etiologies.[1]

Etiology

Gallstones usually form from sluggishly emptying of bile from the gallbladder. When bile is not fully drained from the gallbladder, it can precipitate as sludge which in turn can develop into gallstones. Biliary obstruction from various causes such as strictures in the bile duct or neoplasms may also lead to gallstones. The most common cause of cholelithiasis is the precipitation of cholesterol from cholesterol-rich bile. The second most common form of gallstones is pigmented gallstones. These form from the breakdown of red blood cells and are black in color. The third type of gallstones is mixed pigmented stones which are a combination of calcium substrates such as calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate, cholesterol and bile. The fourth type of stones is calcium stones. These may be due to the precipitation of serum calcium in patients with hypercalcemia. Often these patients will have concurrent kidney stones.[2]

Epidemiology

Most gallstones are asymptomatic. In the United States, approximately 14 million women and 6 million men with an age range of 20 to 74 have gallstones. The prevalence increases as a person ages. Obesity increases the likelihood of gallstones, especially in women due to increases in biliary secretion of cholesterol. On the other hand, patients with drastic weight loss or fasting have a higher chance of gallstones secondary to biliary stasis. Furthermore, there is also a hormonal association with gallstones. Estrogen has been shown to result in an increase in bile cholesterol as well as a decrease in gallbladder contractility. Women of reproductive age or on birth control medication that have estrogen have a two-fold increase in gallstone formation compared to males. People with chronic illness such as diabetes also have an increase in gallstone formation as well as reduced gallbladder wall contractility due to neuropathy.[3]

Pathophysiology

Gallstones occur when substances in the bile reach their limits of solubility. As bile becomes concentrated in the gallbladder, it becomes supersaturated with these substances, which in time precipitate into small crystals. These crystals, in turn, become stuck in the gallbladder mucus, resulting in gallbladder sludge. Over time, these crystals grow and form large stones. Complications caused by gallstones are a direct consequence of occlusion of the hepatic and biliary tree by sludge and stones.[3]

Histopathology

Pathologists can analyze the composition of gallstones and bile, which may help to determine the cause of the stones, especially in cases of primary common bile duct stones, after gallbladder removal and the exact cause of the stones is unknown.[4][5]

History and Physical

Usually, patients with symptoms from gallstones present with right upper abdominal pain after eating greasy or spicy foods, nausea, and vomiting. Pain can also be present in the epigastric area that radiates to the right scapula or mid-back. The classic physical exam finding is a positive Murphy's sign, where the pain is elicited on deep palpation to the right upper quadrant underneath the rib cage upon deep inspiration. Patients may be asymptomatic for months to years until the discovery of gallstones. Acute cholecystitis presents similarly, however, is more severe. Jaundice can be a sign of a common bile duct obstruction from an entrapped gallstone. In the presence of jaundice and abdominal pain, often a procedure is an indication to go and retrieve the stone to prevent further sequelae. One such sequela is ascending cholangitis, with symptoms of right upper abdominal pain, fever, and jaundice (Charcot's triad). Progression of this condition is indicated by neurologic changes and hypotension (Reynold's pentad). Other sequelae are acute pancreatitis with symptoms of mid-epigastric pain and intractable vomiting.[6]

Evaluation

The best diagnostic test for diagnosing gallstones and subsequent acute cholecystitis is a right upper quadrant abdominal ultrasound. It is associated with a 90% specificity rate and depending on the ultrasound operator, can detect stones as small as 2 mm as well as sludge and gallbladder polyps. Ultrasound findings that point towards acute cholecystitis versus cholelithiasis include gallbladder wall thickening (greater than 3 mm), pericholecystic fluid and a positive sonographic Murphy's sign. Gallstones can also often be present on CT scans and MRIs, however, these tests are not as sensitive for acute cholecystitis. Approximately 10% of gallstones may be found on routine plain films due to their high calcium content. If there is a suspected stone in the common bile duct based on ultrasound results, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is the next step. If a common duct stone is identified on the MRCP, then the gold-standard test of an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP) should be performed by a gastroenterologist. A percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTHC) is also useful in diagnosing common bile duct stones if an ERCP is not possible.[7]

Treatment / Management

Cholecystectomy treats symptomatic gallstones. The laparoscopic approach is the standard of care today. Open cholecystectomies are the option when it is not practical or advisable to do a laparoscopic procedure. It is not wise to only remove the gallstones as studies have shown that they recur after about one year. In cases of acute cholecystitis in critically ill patients or patients who are poor surgical candidates, a decompression cholecystostomy tube can be placed to temporize the patient until stable enough for definitive surgery. Common bile duct stones can be removed with a preoperative or postoperative ERCP, PTHC or operatively with a common bile duct exploration. Ascending cholangitis needs to be addressed urgently by removing the blockage either with ERCP, PTHC, or surgery, as well as early antibiotic administration. In cases of nonacute cholecystitis and very poor surgical candidates, gallstones can be treated medically. Ursodiol is administered daily with the hope of dissolving the gallstones and has shown mixed success with some studies at best showing less than a 50% response rate.[8]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Gallbladder disease can be a difficult diagnosis. Early suspicion with proper testing will make the diagnosis. Having a skilled radiologist and emergency physician will often be the critical first steps in properly making the diagnosis of gallstones. Early intervention by an experienced surgeon is also vital. Practitioners should remember that not all gallstones will require surgery and the correct clinical decision must be made as a group recommendation between the primary care physician, nurse practitioner, radiologist, gastroenterologist, the patient, and the surgeon.[9]


Interested in Participating?

We are looking for contributors to author, edit, and peer review our vast library of review articles and multiple choice questions. In as little as 2-3 hours you can make a significant contribution to your specialty. In return for a small amount of your time, you will receive free access to all content and you will be published as an author or editor in eBooks, apps, online CME/CE activities, and an online Learning Management System for students, teachers, and program directors that allows access to review materials in over 500 specialties.

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor

This is an academic project designed to provide inexpensive peer-reviewed Apps, eBooks, and very soon an online CME/CE system to help students identify weaknesses and improve knowledge. We would like you to consider being an author or editor. Please click here to learn more. Thank you for you for your interest, the StatPearls Publishing Editorial Team.

Gallbladder Gallstones (Calculi) - Questions

Take a quiz of the questions on this article.

Take Quiz
Which of the following is NOT a component of gallstones?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
Which of the following is not true of cholesterol gallstones?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
Which of the following is not associated with increased risk for gallstones?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
A female with sickle cell anemia has gallstones. Which types of stones are most likely in this patient?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
Which of the following is the best management for an incidental CT finding of gallstones in an asymptomatic patient with no risk factors?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
Which of the following is true about patients with gallstones?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
What is the most common type of gallbladder calculi?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
A 40-year old female underwent a laparoscopic procedure this morning. She arrived back on the surgical floor and attached to the medical chart is a plastic bag with a specimen. The patient had requested that the surgeon save the specimen for her (see image). What is true about this condition? Select all that apply.

(Move Mouse on Image to Enlarge)
  • Image 6563 Not availableImage 6563 Not available
    Image courtesy S Bhimji
Attributed To: Image courtesy S Bhimji



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up
A 45-year-old female presents with vague abdominal pain. She has been having this pain intermittently for the last five years but did not seek medical attention earlier. The pain is the strongest in the right hypochondrium. Physical examination reveals mild tenderness to deep palpation in the right hypochondrium. An ultrasound exam reveals the presence of gallstones. The patient refuses all surgical options and asks for strictly nonsurgical treatment. Which of the following treatments is the most likely to provide the highest benefit to this patient?



Click Your Answer Below


Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.


Sign Up

Gallbladder Gallstones (Calculi) - References

References

Tsai TJ,Chan HH,Lai KH,Shih CA,Kao SS,Sun WC,Wang EM,Tsai WL,Lin KH,Yu HC,Chen WC,Wang HM,Tsay FW,Lin HS,Cheng JS,Hsu PI, Gallbladder function predicts subsequent biliary complications in patients with common bile duct stones after endoscopic treatment? BMC gastroenterology. 2018 Feb 27     [PubMed]
Rebholz C,Krawczyk M,Lammert F, Genetics of gallstone disease. European journal of clinical investigation. 2018 Jul     [PubMed]
Shabanzadeh DM, New determinants for gallstone disease?
. Danish medical journal. 2018 Feb     [PubMed]
    [PubMed]
    [PubMed]
    [PubMed]
    [PubMed]
    [PubMed]
    [PubMed]

Disclaimer

The intent of StatPearls is to provide practice questions and explanations to assist you in identifying and resolving knowledge deficits. These questions and explanations are not intended to be a source of the knowledge base of all of medicine, nor is it intended to be a board or certification review of PA-Hospital Medicine. The authors or editors do not warrant the information is complete or accurate. The reader is encouraged to verify each answer and explanation in several references. All drug indications and dosages should be verified before administration.

StatPearls offers the most comprehensive database of free multiple-choice questions with explanations and short review chapters ever developed. This system helps physicians, medical students, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and allied health professionals identify education deficits and learn new concepts. StatPearls is not a board or certification review system for PA-Hospital Medicine, it is a learning system that you can use to help improve your knowledge base of medicine for life-long learning. StatPearls will help you identify your weaknesses so that when you are ready to study for a board or certification exam in PA-Hospital Medicine, you will already be prepared.

Our content is updated continuously through a multi-step peer review process that will help you be prepared and review for a thorough knowledge of PA-Hospital Medicine. When it is time for the PA-Hospital Medicine board and certification exam, you will already be ready. Besides online study quizzes, we also publish our peer-reviewed content in eBooks and mobile Apps. We also offer inexpensive CME/CE, so our content can be used to attain education credits while you study PA-Hospital Medicine.