July 29, 2016

Gallstones

What do gallstones look like?

Gallstones may number anywhere from one to hundreds, varying in size from a millimeter to four or five centimeters. When there are single or only a few gallstones they tend to be round. When larger numbers of gallstones are present they tend to be faceted due to the rubbing of one gallstone against another. Brown pigment gallstones may be crumbly and irregular.

Do gallstones pass?

Gallstones may pass out of the gallbladder or ducts particularly if they are small. It is the passage of gallstones that leads to many of their complications.

What causes gallstones, and who gets them?

Gallstones are common; they occur in approximately 20% of women in the US, Canada and Europe, but there is a large variation in the prevalence among different ethnic groups. For example, gallstones occur 1 ½ to 2 times more commonly in Scandinavians and Mexican-Americans. Among American Indians, gallstone prevalence is more than 80%. These differences probably are accounted for by genetic (hereditary) factors. First-degree relatives (parents, siblings, and children) of individuals with gallstones are 1 ½ times more likely to have gallstones than if they do not have a first-degree relative with gallstones. Further support for a genetic predisposition comes from twin studies. Thus, among non-identical pairs of twins (who share 50% of their genes with one another), both individuals in a pair have gallstones 8% of the time. Among identical pairs of twins (who share 100% of their genes with one another), both individuals have gallstones 23% of the time.

There are several conditions that are associated with the formation of gallstones, and the way in which they cause gallstones can vary. (Please see the section on risks for gallstones in this article.) Continue Reading

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Reviewed on 4/18/2016
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