What is cholelithiasis? Cholelithiasis is the medical name for hard deposits (gallstones) that may form in the gallbladder. Cholelithiasis is common in the United States population. Six percent of adult men and 10% of adult women are affected. The cause of cholelithiasis is not completely understood, but it is thought to have multiple factors. The gallbladder stores bile and releases it into the small intestine when it is needed for digestion. Gallstones can develop if the bile contains too much cholesterol or too much bilirubin (one of the components of bile), or if the gallbladder is dysfunctional and cannot release the bile. Different types of gallstones form in cholelithiasis. The most common type, called a cholesterol stone, results from the presence of too much cholesterol in the bile. Another type of stone, called a pigment stone, is formed from excess bilirubin, a waste product created by the breakdown of the red blood cells in the liver. The size and number of gallstones varies in cholelithiasis; the gallbladder can form many small stones or one large stone. The course of cholelithiasis varies among individuals. Most people with cholelithiasis have no symptoms at all. A minority of patients with gallstones develop symptoms: severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and complete blockage of the bile ducts that may pose the risk of infection. Cholelithiasis can lead to cholecystitis, inflammation of the gallbladder. Acute gallstone attacks may be managed with intravenous medications. Chronic (long-standing) cholelithiasis is treated by surgical removal of the gallbladder. Left untreated, cholelithiasis can lead to serious complications such as tissue damage, tears in the gallbladder, and infection that spreads to other parts of your body. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), severe abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, and nausea with or without vomiting. Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for cholelithiasis, but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.