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Gallstones are a common ailment that occur when crystals of cholesterol form in the gallbladder. According to the Merck medical library, approximately 20 per cent of the American population over the age of 65 experiences gallstones. Under the right conditions, gallstones can form at any age. Many gallstones will remain in the gall bladder and not pass out of the body; However, gallstones do have the ability to leave the gall bladder, and in the process often create a host of medical issues.
When a gallstone is able to escape the gall bladder, one of the first places that it passes through are the bile ducts. Since bile ducts are only designed to pass liquid bile, a gallstone often gets stuck and blocks the bile duct from operating correctly. Most commonly this block occurs in the cystic duct, common bile duct, and the ampulla of vater (the area in which the pancreatic duct and bile duct connect to the small intestine). A block in the bile duct is where most patient will begin to feel pain. The blockage also often allows bacterial infections to occur within the duct.
If a stone is able to make it through the bile duct, it is passed out of the ampulla of vater and into the small intestines. Here it goes through the same process as other matter that is passed into the small intestine. Eventually it makes its way through the colon, and out in the form of faeces. Since the area from the intestine on is large enough to pass most stones, future problems are rare once the ampulla of vater has been cleared.
Since most gallstones either remain in the gallbladder, or get stuck in the bile ducts, medical or surgical attention is often necessary. When the gallbladder becomes filled with stones, or if stones occur on a regular basis, your doctor may recommend the removal of your gallbladder. According to Merck, approximately 500,000 patients in the United States have their gallbladder removed each year. Since the gallbladder is no more than a storage system for bile, your body does not need the gallbladder to survive. Medicinal interventions use medications to break down the gallstones into small enough pieces to pass through the bile ducts into the small intestines. Unfortunately, medications can take months to reach and break down the gallstones. Experimental methods are now being used to inject medications directly into the gallbladder to speed up the process.
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