Gallstones are very common in the adult population in this country; up to 10-20% of the adult population may have stones detected on ultrasound
imaging. They are most often composed of cholesterol and bile salts, and the majority of patients with stones never suffer symptoms as a result of their presence. Sometimes the stones may become transiently stuck near the opening of the cystic duct, which is the tube that leads out of the gallbladder. This can cause a right upper quadrant abdominal pain
that is usually associated with eating. If the stones become lodged in the duct (or further down in the common bile duct), then more severe symptoms of infection and inflammation can result.
Typically treatment of stones is only warranted if a patient is having symptoms. If regular pain with meals occurs as a result of transient stone obstruction, or if an infection of the gallbladder occurs as a result of a lodged stone, then the gallbladder is usually taken out (typically laparoscopically without a large incision). If a stone is lodged further down toward the intestine in the common bile, then the stone may need to be removed endoscopically by ERCP (a procedure in which a tube is passed down through the mouth and into the first part of the small intestine, and a snare is deployed into the common bile duct).