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Digestive health centre

Gallstones - Gallstones Glossary

BMJ Group Medical Reference



If you have an allergy to something (such as pollen or a medicine), your body always overreacts to it. The reaction happens because your immune system (your body's system for fighting infection) is too sensitive to it.


These medicines are used to help your immune system fight infection. There are a number of different types of antibiotics that work in different ways to get rid of bacteria, parasites, and other infectious agents. Antibiotics do not work against viruses.


A calorie is a unit that is used to tell how much energy is found in food. But when we talk about how many calories food contains, we actually mean kilocalories, or kcal, which contain 1,000 'small' calories. When your body stores energy instead of using it, you get heavier. This is why you gain weight if you eat foods that are high in calories and the energy is stored instead of used. If your daily calorie intake is the same as the amount of energy your body uses up, your weight will remain the same. If you consume more calories than your body uses, you put on weight. Foods containing fat are high in calories.


Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made by your liver or absorbed from food. It is used by your body to make bile acids (which help your intestines absorb nutrients) and steroid hormones (like testosterone or oestrogen). Cholesterol is also an important part of cell membranes, which are the structures that surround cells. 'Good cholesterol' is called HDL; 'bad cholesterol' is LDL.

Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease causes inflammation in your bowel. It usually affects your small intestine, but can happen anywhere in your digestive tract. It causes diarrhoea and bloody stools.

CT scan

A CT scan is a type of X-ray. It takes several detailed pictures of the inside of your body from different angles. CT stands for computed tomography. It is also called a CAT scan (computed axial tomography).

cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a disease people are born with that gives them problems with their lungs and bowels. The main results are breathing and digestive problems.


Diabetes is a condition that causes too much sugar (glucose) to circulate in the blood. It happens when the body stops making a hormone called insulin (type 1 diabetes) or when insulin stops working (type 2 diabetes).


If you have a fever, your body temperature is above 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). With a fever you often get other symptoms, such as shivering, headache or sweating. A fever is usually caused by an infection.


Fibre is all the parts of food that the body can't absorb. This is why foods that are high in fibre make you have more bowel movements. When your body can't absorb something, it leaves your body in your stools. Foods high in fibre include wholemeal bread and cereals, root vegetables and fruits.

gall bladder

The gall bladder is a small organ below the liver on the right side of the abdomen. Its job is to store bile, a chemical made in the liver that helps to break down food in the intestines. The chemicals in the gall bladder can, under certain circumstances, become solid and form small stones. If a stone gets stuck in the tubes that empty the gall bladder, there can be a backup of fluid, causing the gall bladder to swell and possibly become infected. This condition is called gall bladder disease.


A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specialises in treating people with diseases of the digestive tract. This includes the oesophagus, the stomach, the liver, the pancreas, the small and large intestines, and the anus.

general anaesthetic

You may have a type of medicine called a general anaesthetic when you have surgery. It is given to make you unconscious so you don't feel pain when you have surgery.

hormone replacement therapy

Hormone replacement therapy (also called HRT) is given to women after the menopause to replace the oestrogen (the main female hormone) that is no longer made by their ovaries. It can be given either as oestrogen alone or as a combination of oestrogen and progesterone (another female hormone). It is useful to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, and to prevent brittle bone disease (osteoporosis). But there are concerns that it may increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes.


You get an infection when bacteria, a fungus, or a virus get into a part of your body where it shouldn't be. For example, an infection in your nose and airways causes the common cold. An infection in your skin can cause rashes such as athlete's foot. The organisms that cause infections are so tiny that you can't see them without a microscope.


Inflammation is when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot, and sore. Inflammation happens because your body is trying to protect you from germs, from something that's in your body and could harm you (like a splinter) or from things that cause allergies (these things are called allergens). Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury.

irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that causes symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Although IBS can cause long-term discomfort, it does not usually lead to serious health problems.


Your liver is on the right side of your body, just below your ribcage. Your liver does several things in your body, including processing and storing nutrients from food, and breaking down chemicals, such as alcohol.

local anaesthetic

A local anaesthetic is a painkiller that's used to numb one part of your body. You usually get local anaesthetics as injections.

MRI scan

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine uses a magnetic field to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body.


If your body stores more energy than you need, this can make you overweight. The excess energy is stored in your fat cells. If your weight goes above a certain level, doctors call this obesity. Obesity is considered a medical condition. The excess weight can be a strain on your bones and joints. And if you are obese, you're more likely to get other diseases. Doctors have developed a scale for telling how much excess weight you have. This measure, called the body mass index (BMI), depends on your height.


Your pancreas is an organ that's behind your stomach. It makes several different chemicals. Some of the chemicals help your body digest food. Your pancreas also makes a chemical called insulin, which helps your body use the sugar in your blood.

randomised controlled trials

Randomised controlled trials are medical studies designed to test whether a treatment works. Patients are split into groups. One group is given the treatment being tested (for example, an antidepressant drug) while another group (called the comparison or control group) is given an alternative treatment. This could be a different type of drug or a dummy treatment (a placebo). Researchers then compare the effects of the different treatments.

spinal cord

Your spinal cord is a thick bundle of nerves that runs down your backbone (spine). These nerves carry messages between your brain and the rest of your body. The bones (vertebrae) in your neck and back protect your spinal cord. If your spinal cord gets damaged, you may lose feeling in your legs or arms.

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.


An ulcer is an open sore. Ulcers can happen in many parts of your body, such as in your stomach, and the skin of your legs, mouth, or genitals.


Ultrasound is a tool doctors use to create images of the inside of your body. An ultrasound machine sends out high-frequency sound waves, which are directed at an area of your body. The waves reflect off parts of your body to create a picture. Ultrasound is often used to see a developing baby inside a woman's womb.


Veins are blood vessels that carry blood back to your heart after your blood has delivered oxygen and food to the tissues.


X-rays are pictures taken of the inside of your body. They are made by passing small amounts of radiation through your body and then onto film.


For references related to Gallstones click here.
Last Updated: November 23, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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