Gallstones, bile attack and gallbladder surgery

Gallstones can cause a bile attack and be the source of inflammation of the bile ducts. One cure is the removal of the gallbladder. Is it possible to live without this body part? Yes certainly! As soon as we notice that we have gallstones – usually we don’t even know it – because they start to build up and clog the bile ducts, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible to have the diagnosis made and treatment arranged. ‘Walking’ gallstones can cause a lot of damage and can even be life-threatening. An operation to remove only the stones or the entire gallbladder with the stones is then a sensible remedy.

Surgical removal of gallbladder with gallstones

  • Gallbladder and fat
  • Gallstones
  • Bile attack
  • Jaundice
  • Bigger problems – inflammation
  • Gallbladder surgery
  • Preventing gallstones

Source: Marcelo Reis, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Gallbladder and fat

A gallbladder is a reservoir of bile made in the liver and released when we have a fatty meal. The liver can also secrete bile without it reaching the gallbladder. The bile fluid is a digestive juice that has an important function in the digestion of fats. Man used to need this supply of bile when he ate large quantities of fatty food every few days: a large animal had been shot and prepared and eaten. Today’s humans eat more often and more regularly than prehistoric humans did and can make do with less bile than what the liver secretes. The reservoir is actually no longer necessary. The fact that we can do without a gallbladder comes in handy when the gallstones start to play up.


The bad thing about bile is that it can thicken and produce gallstones. Unhelpful obstacles in the gallbladder, which sometimes travel outside the bladder and end up in the bile ducts. There they can cause blockages that can be very painful and can also be the source of dangerous inflammation of organs. Not everyone who walks around with gallstones, almost all people have them, they notice something.

Bile attack

The presence of gallstones can be felt in a fifth of people who have them by pain, sometimes severe colicky pain, radiating to the back and shoulders. A bile attack is an extreme pain that can last more than two hours. There are three stages of discomfort and pain caused by gallstones.

  1. Gallstones in the reservoir;
  2. Pain after eating fatty foods;
  3. Colic pain.

Gallstones in the gallbladder

Gallstones that have formed in the gallbladder usually do not cause pain or danger. They can be left in place and expect not to cause any problems.

Pain after eating fatty foods

The next stage is that pain is felt from time to time, especially after eating fatty foods. This pain usually lasts less than an hour. During such an attack you may feel stomach pain, belching, nausea, indigestion and diarrhea.

Colic pain

The third stage of the biliary attack is a medical emergency . A gallstone blocks a bile duct and that blockage is painful. The pain is intense with stomach and back pain, chills and clammy sweat. If the pain is severe and short-lived, it is called colic pain. The pain can come and go in attacks and the patient often does not know how to sit or lie down. It is the violent contraction of the gallbladder that causes the pain. The gallbladder wants to remove the blockage of the bile duct and tries to achieve this by contracting violently. The pain may be accompanied by jaundice.

Gallstones / Source: Stell98, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


When a gallstone is stuck in the bile duct, bile can no longer flow to the duodenum. The bile then has nowhere to go and a blockage occurs in the liver, after which bile dye ends up in the blood. This turns the whites of the eyes and skin yellow and makes the urine darker. If this is the case, it is called jaundice.

Bigger problems – inflammation

The problems increase when the contractions of the gallbladder do not work and the stone becomes stuck in the bile duct. Sun blockage with jaundice as a warning can lead to serious and life-threatening complications:

  • The bile ducts can become inflamed;
  • the gallbladder can become inflamed;
  • the pancreas can become inflamed.

Gallstone harvest of 31 stones / Source: Jeanet de Jong

Gallbladder surgery

Gallstones that cause such problems must be removed from the body. This can be done with an endoscopic procedure, in which the endoscope enters through the mouth and the gallstones are removed from the ducts. If this method cannot be used, surgery will be required. The usual treatment is gallbladder surgery, in which the gallbladder is removed and the stones are removed along with it. There are two different types of operations in this regard:

  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy – keyhole surgery with four small incisions in the abdomen;
  • Open cholecystectomy – abdominal surgery with a large incision in the abdomen.

Preventing gallstones

You cannot completely prevent the production of gallstones, but the risk can be reduced with a healthy lifestyle. Eat well and varied, drink enough water every day and don’t skip meals. If you want to lose weight, take it easy. There is no diet to prevent gallstones.

read more

  • Gallstones in the gallbladder – cholesterol and pigment
  • Biliary pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas caused by gallstones
  • Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery – keyhole surgery
  • Bile – bitter digestive juice from the liver