Harvard Women's Health Watch

What to do about gallstones

Gallstones are one of the most common digestive problems treated in women.

More than 25 million people in the United States have gallstones, and 65% to 75% of them are women. Fortunately, for most people, gallstones are "silent" — they don't cause major symptoms. When they do act up, there are effective ways to address the problem.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones begin with bile, a substance that helps with the digestion of fats and the absorption of certain vitamins. Bile is made in the liver and carried to the gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ that concentrates and stores it. The fat in food triggers the release of a hormone that causes the gallbladder to contract and release bile into the intestine.

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