Gallstones are crystals or cholesterol, other lipids (fats) and salts which usually form in the gallbladder and often grow in size with time. They can occur in both men and women and at any age. Often they do not cause any symptoms and can be left alone. However, if they cause pain, gallbladder inflammation, pancreatitis or a blockage to the bile duct, they have to be dealt with, usually by removal of the gallbladder by laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery.
This is the removal of the gallbladder through keyhole surgery for various conditions which can all cause extreme pain in the upper abdomen sometimes going through to the back and right shoulder, nausea, vomiting and anxiety for the individual. Gallstones are common and found in people of all ages. They are the most common cause of the following conditions.
Biliary Colic is caused by gallstones passing down the bile duct from the gall bladder to the small intestine. To prevent further episodes removal of the gallbladder is often recommended.
Cholecystitis is where the gallbladder becomes inflammed and sometimes infected, This condition can be treated with antibiotics followed by later surgery or in some cases by immediate surgery to remove the gallbladder.
Pancreatitis. This is an extremely painful condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen. The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is the movement of a gallstone from the gallbladder, down the bile duct and into the small intestine. Once the acute phase of pancreatitis is over laparoscopic removal of the gallbladder is recommended to prevent pancreatitis from happening again.
Bile Duct Exploration
Performed Laparoscopically this type of procedure is done at the same time as gallbladder surgery when it is known before surgery that a gallstone has become lodged in the bile duct.
A gallstone when lodged in the bile duct can cause Obstructive Jaundice blocking the normal flow of bile down the bile duct, causing the skin and eyes to show a yellow discolouration. Other symptoms are dark urine and a pale stool.
At the time the gallbladder is removed a tiny basket or balloon is passed into the bile duct to remove any stone(s).
An ERCP is an endoscopic procedure which is done to allow access into the bile duct without the need for an operation. It is usually done to remove stones from the bile duct or to unblock the duct when a gallstone or tumour has caused jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin).
An ERCP does not need a full general anaesthetic and is normally done under intra-venous sedation only. In some situations, a thin plastic tube (called a stent) is left in the bile duct to allow bile to drain past an obstruction. This plastic tube is invisible and does not cause any discomfort and can usually be removed at a later date.