Gallstone Disease

What is Gallstone Disease?

Gallstones consist of hardened deposits that form in your gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ that resembles a small pouch and acts as a reservoir for bile, a fluid produced by the liver. The gallbladder empties in response to food intake and aids in the digestion of fat. The bile ducts act as the drainage system for bile and connect the liver and gallbladder to the intestine. The system of bile ducts includes the common bile duct, the hepatic ducts, and the cystic duct. Gallstones can block the bile ducts and cause sudden pain which may require immediate medical attention. Complications of gallstones include:

  • Acute Pancreatitis
  • Acute Cholangitis
  • Acute Cholecystitis
  • Bile Duct Stones
  • Bile Duct Strictures
  • Bile Duct Injury
  • Cholangiocarcinoma
  • Sudden onset of abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Jaundice and dark urine
  • Fever

Gallstones can be hard or soft ranging in size from millimetres to more than 1cm in size. They are usually made of deposits of cholesterol and bilirubin that build up in the gallbladder. Gallstones may also form if the gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough.


Doctors can suggest steps for you to take to lower your risk of pancreatic cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices such as:

  • Lowering the fat in your dietary intake
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Reduce and stop smoking
  • Regular exercise and avoiding too much weight gain
  • Limit alcohol use
  • Blood Tests
  • Ultrasound
  • Computerised Tomography (CT) Scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) 
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound

Gallstones are commonly detected during health screening and do not require treatment if people remain asymptomatic. In the event that gallstones do cause symptoms, treatment options may involve one or a combination of the following:


  • Medications to dissolve gallstones. Medications have limited effect in dissolving gallstones. 
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – is an endoscopic therapeutic procedure used to visualise and treat conditions involving the bile and pancreatic ducts. The endoscope is inserted through the mouth and guided past the stomach and into the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). The ampulla of Vater and the bile ducts can then be cannulated.
  • Endoscopic stents can be inserted through an endoscope into the bile ducts to relieve obstruction by gallstones.
  • Percutaneous stents are an alternative that can also be inserted through the skin to relieve obstruction by gallstones.
  • Cholecystectomy – This involves surgery to remove the gallbladder.