Merck Manual

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Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders


Christina C. Lindenmeyer

, MD,

  • Associate Staff, Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Assistant Professor of Medicine
  • Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University

Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020
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The liver produces bile, a greenish yellow, thick, sticky fluid. Bile aids digestion by making cholesterol, fats, and fat-soluble vitamins easier to absorb from the intestine. Bile also helps eliminate certain waste products (mainly bilirubin and excess cholesterol) and by-products of drugs from the body.

The biliary tract consists of small tubes (ducts) that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and then to the small intestine. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac located beneath the liver. It stores bile. When bile is needed, as when people eat, the gallbladder contracts, pushing bile through the bile ducts into the small intestine.

View of the Liver, Bile Ducts, and Gallbladder

View of the Liver, Bile Ducts, and Gallbladder

The flow of bile can be blocked by the following:

If the bile ducts are blocked, the gallbladder may become inflamed (cholecystitis).

Biliary pain without gallstones (acalculous biliary pain) can also occur.

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