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In medicine, gallstones (choleliths) are crystalline bodies formed within the body by accretion or concretion of normal or abnormal bile components.
Cholesterol stones are usually green, but are sometimes white or yellow in color and account for about 80 percent of gallstones. They are made primarily of cholesterol.
Pigment stones are small, dark stones made of bilirubin and calcium salts that are found in bile. They account for the other 20 percent of gallstones. Risk factors for pigment stones include cirrhosis, biliary tract infections, and hereditary blood cell disorders, such as sickle cell anemia. Stones of mixed origin also occur.
Gallstones can occur anywhere within the biliary tree, including the gallbladder and the common bile duct. Obstruction of the common bile duct is choledocholithiasis; obstruction of the biliary tree can cause jaundice; obstruction of the outlet of the pancreatic exocrine system can cause pancreatitis. Cholelithiasis is the presence of stones in the gallbladder - chole- means "gall bladder", lithia meaning "stone", and -sis means "process".
Gallstones vary in size and may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. The gallbladder may develop a single, often large, stone or many smaller ones, even several thousand.
Gallstones are, oddly, a valuable by-product of meat processing, fetching up to $900 US an ounce in their use as a purported aphrodisiac in the herbal medicine of some cultures. The finest gallstones tend to be sourced from old dairy cows. Much as in the manner of diamond mines, slaughterhouses carefully scrutinise offal department workers for