What are gallstones?

Gallstones are small, hard crystals formed from bile.  

Bile is a liquid made by the liver to help digest and absorb food. It is stored in the gall bladder.  

Gallstones diagram

Crystals can form because of:

  • an unhealthy diet
  • obesity
  • pregnancy
  • prolonged use of IV nutrition
  • certain conditions like Sickle Cell Disease

What are the symptoms?

There may be one or more of these symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper, right stomach area that comes and goes. It often happens after eating, especially after eating fatty foods.
  • Upset stomach and vomiting.
  • These symptoms can last from 30 minutes to a few hours.
  • The white part of the eye may look yellow. This could be jaundice.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Most patients with gallstones have similar symptoms that your doctor will recognize.
  • An ultrasound is needed to confirm the presence of gallstones.
  • Often some lab tests are done. 

How are gallstone treated?

  • The gall bladder is something we can live without.  Gallstones are very common in the United States. Removal of the gall bladder is one of the most common surgeries we do.
  • Removal of the gall bladder prevents more gallstones and severe life-threating problems of infection and pancreatitis. 

Should my child have surgery?

  • Often gallstones are found in patients that have no symptoms. Surgeons may not suggest surgery for patients who do not have symptoms.
  • If patients do have symptoms, surgery is often suggested fairly soon after the diagnosis is made. This helps to prevent bigger problems. Gallstones can get stuck which can make your child very sick.
  • Children’s Wisconsin has pediatric surgeons, pediatric anesthesiologists and pediatric nurses.  This helps make surgery and anesthesia in young children safe.

What is done during surgery to remove the gall bladder?

Liver diagramMost often we do this surgery using a small camera called a laparoscope. It is placed through a 1cm cut in or near your child’s belly button (umbilicus.) Often, three other small (5 to10mm) cuts are also made across the upper abdomen. Through these, we separate the gall bladder from the liver. Once removed, the cuts are closed with stitches (sutures) that will dissolve. Then numbing medicine is put in the cuts to help with pain after surgery. 

What can I expect after surgery?

Most children can go home the same day of surgery. Before going home, your child will need to:

  • Take enough fluids.
  • Feel comfortable or be easily comforted.

Children with other health care health issues may need to stay longer.

For more health and wellness information check out Kids Health

ALERT: Call your child’s doctor, nurse, or clinic if you have any questions or concerns or if your child has special health care needs that were not covered by this information. 

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Recognized by the American College of Surgeons, our Level I verification represents the highest level of recognition for hospitals that perform complex surgical procedures in newborns and children.

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