Found under the liver and on the right side of the abdomen, the gallbladder is a pear-shaped, hollow organ that stores bile, a yellow-brown digestive enzyme that’s produced by the liver and is passed along to the small intestine. Bile is important for the body as it helps digest fats in the small intestine.1,2
But, just like other organs, the gallbladder is also prone to diseases, with gallstones being a major example. Also called cholelithiasis, these hard, compacted particles of digestive fluids, often called “stones,” form in the gallbladder when a substance that makes up the bile, such as cholesterol or a waste product called bilirubin, becomes too concentrated and eventually develops into a hard lump.3 These stones can be as tiny as a grain of rice or as huge as a golf ball.4
A patient can experience two types of gallstones: cholesterol and pigment. Cholesterol gallstones are composed of the substance of the same name, and cause 80 percent of stones among individuals in Europe and the Americas.5
Pigment gallstones, on the other hand, are made up of calcium salts of bilirubin, phosphate, carbonate and other anions.6 These gallstones are more common in people living in Southeast Asia, and they are responsible for only 15 percent of gallstones in individuals from Europe and the Americas.7
How Prevalent Are Gallstones?
In the U.S., around 12 percent of the population — or roughly 36 million people — are affected with gallstones. According to Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2017, 2 to 3 percent of this number, or about 500,000 to 600,000, have surgeries on average each year to remove their gallbladder.10 This makes gallstone disease the most common gastrointestinal disorder that requires hospitalization.
Having gallstones isn’t cheap, either. In the U.S., gallstones cost Americans over $5 billion a year and possibly more, (as noted below). This makes it the second most expensive digestive disease, only surpassed by gastroesophageal reflux disease.11
In 1997 there were 149,661 hospitalizations for acute cholecystitis; in 2012 there were 215,995 for a principal diagnosis of cholecystitis and another 272,130 hospitalized for cholecystitis as either a principal or secondary diagnosis.12 And these were just the hospitalizations; today, cholecystectomies are often performed in a same-day procedure, so no hospitalization occurs. To that end, it’s estimated that 750,000 total gall bladder operations are now performed annually in the U.S., costing between $6.2 billion and $9.3 billion.13,14
How to Stop Gallstones From Affecting You
Preventing gallstones from affecting you or someone you know begins with a healthy lifestyle. Read these Gallstones pages to learn about what can prompt these stones to develop, the ideal foods that you should be eating and effective natural methods that'll help eliminate these stones from your body.