Children's Hospital Colorado
Pediatric Surgery

Cholelithiasis (Gallstones)

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What is cholelithiasis (gallstones)?

Cholelithiasis, also called gallstones, are solid deposits within the bile that are made up of bile salts, cholesterol or bilirubin (the breakdown of red blood cells). Bile is a fluid in the liver that helps break down fats from food. Gallstones can be small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.

There are two types of gallstones: cholesterol and pigmented. Cholesterol gallstones form when bile and cholesterol mix, causing a hard ball. Pigmented gallstones form when there is too much bilirubin in the bile.

Who gets gallstones?

In adults, women are about twice as likely as men to develop gallstones, which are most common in middle-aged people. This is due to the presence of the female hormone, estrogen, which women produce for pregnancy, and is also raised when using birth control pills. In children, females are also more likely to have gallstones. Many other factors can affect the development of gallstones in children, including:

  • Abnormalities in the production of red blood cells
  • Diabetes
  • Diets high in fat and cholesterol
  • Environmental factors
  • Family history of gallstones
  • Gene-environmental interactions (a person has different reactions than others to various things in their environment)
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Rapid weight loss

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Get to know our pediatric experts.

Lauren Treat, MD

Lauren Treat, MD

Neurology - Pediatric, Hospice & Palliative Medicine

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Jennifer Coffman, CPNP-AC

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Jennifer Janusz, PsyD

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Gretchen Berrios-Siervo, PsyD

Gretchen Berrios-Siervo, PsyD

Neuropsychology, Neuropsychology - Pediatric

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