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Gallstones are small stones that develop in the gallbladder and are the most common cause of emergency hospital admission for people with abdominal pain. About 50,000 people have operations to remove them every year.

Although almost one in five people in the UK get gallstones, most do not experience any symptoms from them. They usually consist of cholesterol, bile pigments and calcium salts that form into a hard crystalline mass that can cause a blockage in the bile duct of the gallbladder, which is a small pouch-like organ underneath the liver.

What causes gallstones?

They develop because of an imbalance in the chemical make-up of the bile inside the gallbladder and the chances of getting them increase with age. Women are three times more like to get gallstones than men and being overweight is a big risk factor.

A diet high in cholesterol, fat, refined carbohydrates, such as white break, cakes and low-fibre cereals contributes to the risk.

You are also more likely to get gallstones if you have diabetes or Crohn’s disease

Symptoms of gallstones

Symptoms only materialize when the gallstones move and get stuck in a duct in the gallbladder when they will cause severe pain in the upper right hand side of your stomach, just under the ribs. The pain usually occurs about an hour after a meal, especially if it is fatty.

Nausea and vomiting, along with feeling sweaty, are a common symptom and you may experience jaundice and a darkening of the urine and pale stools. In more serious cases, gallstones can cause a rapid heartbeat, confusion and loss of appetite.

  • Typical symptoms are upper abdominal pain. It can occur about an hour after a meal, especially if it is fatty
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice/yellowing the skin, whites of the eyes
  • Darkening of the urine and pale stools.

Diagnosis of gallstones

A simple ultrasound scan is usually enough – sometimes an MRI scan is also necessary. A GP may examine your stomach and also run blood and urine tests to check for inflammation.

Further tests including a CT scan and a detailed X-ray can be made to determine the problems in the gallbladder.

Treatment for gallstones

Symptoms may be managed by a switch to a low-fat diet but if a gallstone becomes stuck and causes significant complications such as jaundice or pancreatitis then an operation is needed.

A consultant may advise you to have your gallbladder removed with a cholecystectomy which may be done by laparoscopic – keyhole – or open surgery.

Laparoscopic surgery involves small incisions to the stomach to remove the gallbladder with special surgical instruments but surgeons may opt for one larger cut if the gallbladder is very inflamed or the patient is very overweight.

Both operations are performed under general anaesthetic and you can usually go home the same day and anticipate recovery in about two weeks.

The gallbladder is not an essential organ and people can live normal lives once it has been removed.

Contact us

To ask a question about a gallstones or to book an appointment of treatment for gallstones, contact our specialist team available Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm and on Saturday from 9am – 1pm.

Our gastrointestinal specialists team have a dedicated and caring approach and will seek to find you the earliest appointment possible with the correct specialist for your needs. If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP. You can simply refer yourself and book an appointment.

If you have medical insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa PPP, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer for authorisation for any treatment and, in most cases, you will require a referral letter from your GP. If you do not have a GP, then we have an in-house private GP practice that you can use.Alternatively we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstance.

Call us on 020 7078 3802 or email us at gi.unit@hje.org.uk

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GI Clinic

The GI Unit is supported by a multidisciplinary team of medical and surgical consultants. Our expert team treats and supports patients with any gastrointestinal conditions.

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Patient information

Our Hospital is renowned for providing exemplary levels of care across more than 90 services. From orthopaedics, to urology, our private GP practice and Urgent Care Clinic, our services are led by some of London’s leading Consultants. For more information, and to find a service suitable for your care, find out more about the services that we offer.

Make an enquiry

If you have any questions relating to treatment options or pricing information, get in touch with us by filling out one of our contact boxes or giving us a call on 020 7078 3802.

Our Appointments Team have a dedicated and caring approach to finding you the earliest appointment possible with the best specialist.

If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP for a consultation. You can simply refer yourself* and book an appointment.

If you have health insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa Health, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer to get authorisation before any treatment, and in most cases you will also require a referral letter from your GP.

If you are not registered with a GP, we have an in-house private GP practice you can use. Alternatively, we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstances.

*Please note – for investigations such as X-rays and MRIs, a referral will be required. However, we may be able to arrange this for you through our on-site private GP.

    Make an enquiry

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