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Biliary Colic

Still enjoying that greasy pizza you ate an hour ago?  You may feel relaxed while reading this web site, but if you suffer from biliary colic, you may be having a different kind of experience.

Like all visceral pains, it is difficult to localize.  You might feel it in your chest, the back or shoulder, or even on the opposite side of your body.  The culprit is a greenish pebble wedged in the duct under your liver where thick bile normally oozes into your digestive tract to dissolve the oily pizza. As the muscles of your gall bladder spasm and attempt to dislodge the stone, you may feel the worst pain of your life: "a ten!" . . ." worse than childbirth!"  Although the attack may subside after a few hours, another bout of agony may return the next time you eat greasy food, or even start hitting at random.

Patients with biliary colic may have trouble getting a diagnosis.  Symptoms are easily misinterpreted as heart attacks, pleurisy or indigestion.  Most gallstones are invisible on on CT scans, the first test likely to be ordered in the emergency room.  Even the best test -- abdominal ultrasound -- may be negative. But biliary colic is more than a nuisance. It can occasionally cause permanent liver damage, cancer, pancreatitis or infection.  For patients with medical insurance, the nightmare is easily ended by having the gall bladder removed through a laparosope, often without even spending a night in the hospital.  However, since cholecystectomy is an "elective" procedure, uninsured patients may turn into fugitives, fleeing from one emergency room to the next, forever seeking relief from their unending torment. But even these miserable outcasts can one day hope to outlive the disease. When the stones get too big to block the duct, the attacks may stop.  And before you go under the knife, remember that as many as two-thirds of people with gallstones have no symptoms at all.

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