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F1000Res. 2018 Sep 24;7. pii: F1000 Faculty Rev-1529. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.15505.1. eCollection 2018.

Recent advances in understanding and managing cholesterol gallstones.

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Division of Internal Medicine - Hospital of Bisceglie, ASL BAT, Bisceglie, Italy.
Clinica Medica "A. Murri", Department of Biomedical Sciences & Human Oncology, University of Bari Medical School, Bari, Italy.


The high prevalence of cholesterol gallstones, the availability of new information about pathogenesis, and the relevant health costs due to the management of cholelithiasis in both children and adults contribute to a growing interest in this disease. From an epidemiologic point of view, the risk of gallstones has been associated with higher risk of incident ischemic heart disease, total mortality, and disease-specific mortality (including cancer) independently from the presence of traditional risk factors such as body weight, lifestyle, diabetes, and dyslipidemia. This evidence points to the existence of complex pathogenic pathways linking the occurrence of gallstones to altered systemic homeostasis involving multiple organs and dynamics. In fact, the formation of gallstones is secondary to local factors strictly dependent on the gallbladder (that is, impaired smooth muscle function, wall inflammation, and intraluminal mucin accumulation) and bile (that is, supersaturation in cholesterol and precipitation of solid crystals) but also to "extra-gallbladder" features such as gene polymorphism, epigenetic factors, expression and activity of nuclear receptors, hormonal factors (in particular, insulin resistance), multi-level alterations in cholesterol metabolism, altered intestinal motility, and variations in gut microbiota. Of note, the majority of these factors are potentially manageable. Thus, cholelithiasis appears as the expression of systemic unbalances that, besides the classic therapeutic approaches to patients with clinical evidence of symptomatic disease or complications (surgery and, in a small subgroup of subjects, oral litholysis with bile acids), could be managed with tools oriented to primary prevention (changes in diet and lifestyle and pharmacologic prevention in subgroups at high risk), and there could be relevant implications in reducing both prevalence and health costs.


bile; cholesterol gallstones; gallbladder; pathogenesis; primary prevention

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