The Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests

Gallstone Removal

Gallstone Removal

Normal results
Morbidity and mortality rates


Also known as cholelithotomy, gallstone removal is a procedure that rids the gallbladder of calculus buildup.


The gallbladder is not a vital organ. It is located on the right side of the abdomen underneath the liver. The gallbladder’s function is to store bile, concentrate it, and release it during digestion. Bile is supposed to retain all of its chemicals in solution, but commonly one of them crystallizes and forms sandy or gravel-like particles, finally collecting into gallstones. The formation of gallstones causes gallbladder disease (cholelithiasis).

Chemicals in bile will form crystals as the gallbladder draws water out of the bile. The solubility of these chemicals is based on the concentration of three chemicals: bile acids, phospholipids, and cholesterol. If the chemicals are out of balance, one or the other will not remain in solution. Dietary fat and cholesterol are also implicated in crystal formation.

As the bile crystals aggregate to form stones, they move about, eventually blocking the outlet and preventing the gallbladder from emptying. This blockage results in irritation, inflammation, and sometimes infection (cholecystitis) of the gallbladder. The pattern is usually one of intermittent obstruction due to stones moving in and out of the way. Meanwhile, the gallbladder becomes more and more scarred. Sometimes, infection fills the gallbladder with pus, which is a serious complication.

Occasionally, a gallstone will travel down the cystic duct into the common bile duct and get stuck there. This blockage will back bile up into the liver as well as the gallbladder. If the stone sticks at the ampulla of Vater (a narrowing in the duct leading to the pancreas), the pancreas will also be blocked and will develop pancreatitis.

Gallstones will cause a sudden onset of pain in the upper abdomen. …