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The Gallbladder and bile ducts

  • The gallbladder is a pear-shaped reservoir in continuity with the common hepatic and common bile ducts through the cystic duct.
  •  It is usually 7.5 to 12cm in length, is 3 to 5 cm in diameter, and has a capacity of 35 to 50 mL.
  •  The gallbladder lies on the inferior surface of the liver partially enveloped in a layer of peritoneum.
  •  The gallbladder is anatomically divided into the fundus, body, infundibulum, and neck, which empties into the cystic duct.
  •  Both the gallbladder neck and the cystic duct contain spirally oriented mucosal folds known as the valves of Heister. 
  • The valves prevent the passage of gallstones and excessive distention or collapse of the cystic duct, despite variations in ductal pressure. 

The Hepatic Duct (ductus hepaticus)

  • Two main trunks of nearly equal size. Arising from the liver at the porta. one from the right, the other from the left lobe.
  • The common hepatic duct is less than 2.5cm long  and is formed by the union of the right  and left hepatic ducts.
  • It passes downward and to the right for about 4 cm.
  • Joined at an acute angle by the cystic duct to form the common bile duct. Lies between  the layers of the lesser omentum.
  • Is accompanied by the hepatic artery and portal vein. 
Cystic duct

The cystic duct varies in length from 1 to 5 cm and in diameter from 1 to 3 mm; it usually joins the common hepatic duct at an acute angle.
The Common Bile Duct 

The common bile duct is formed by the junction of the cystic and hepatic ducts.
  • Length: It is about 7.5 cm. long.
  • Diameter: That of a  goose-quill.

  • Course and extent : It descends along the right free margin  of the lesser omentum along with   portal vein ( which is behind it ) , and to the right of the hepatic artery. 
  • Then behind the superior portion of the duodenum,
  • After crossing the duodenum, it runs on the posterior surface of the head of the pancreas, and in front of IVC. 
  • Occasionally completely imbedded in the pancreatic substance. 
  • At its termination it lies for a short distance along the right side of the terminal part of the pancreatic duct and passes with it obliquely between the mucous and muscular coats. 
  • The two ducts unite and open by a common orifice upon the summit of the duodenal papilla, situated at the medial side of the descending portion of the duodenum, a little below its middle and about 7 to 10 cm. from the pylorus. The short tube formed by the union of the two ducts is dilated into an ampulla, the ampulla of Vater. 
Blood supply
  • Gall bladder is supplied by Cystic artery, a branch of right hepatic artery.
  • The blood supply to the common hepatic duct, cystic duct and common bile duct comes from the gastroduodenal, retroduodenal, postero-superior pacreatico duodenal arteries. 
  • The lymphatics of gallbladder (subserosal and submucosal) drain into the cystic L/N of Lund.
  • Small veins and lymphatics course between the gallbladder fossa and the gallbladder wall, connecting the lymphatic and venous drainage of the liver and gallbladder. These connections are the cause of the direct inflammatory and carcinomatous spread from the gallbladder into the liver.
Calot’s triangle

Formed by:
  • Common hepatic duct to the left
  • Cystic duct below and 
  • inferior surface of the liver above.
  • the cystic artery, 
  • the right hepatic artery, and
  • the cystic duct lymph node.

Functions of gall bladder
  • Stores bile
  • Concentrates bile
  • Secretion of mucus
  • The hepatic diverticulum arises from the ventral wall of the foregut and elongates into a stalk to form the choledochous.
  • A lateral bud is given off, which becomes the gall bladder and the cystic duct.

Congenital abnormalities
  • Absence of the gall bladder
  • The Phrygian cap
  • Floating gall bladder
  • Double gall bladder
  • Absence of the cystic duct
  • Low insertion of the cystic duct
  • An accessory cholecystohepatic duct
Biliary atresia

It may be due to viral infection or defective embryogenesis resulting in the inflammatory destruction of extra- and intrahepatic biliary tree.
Incidence 1 in 12000 live births
Male and female equally affected.
It may be associated with: cardiac lesions, polysplenia, situs inversus, absent vena cava and a preduodenal portal vein.


Type I: atresia restricted to the common bile duct
Type II: atresia of the common hepatic duct
Type III: atresia of the right and left hepatic ducts

Clinical features
  • Progressive jaundice in a new born.
  • Steatorrhea
  • Osteomalacia
  • Biliary rickets
  • Severe pruritus
  • Clubbing and skin xanthomas
  • Alpha 1-AT deficiency
  • Cholestasis associated with i.v feeding
  • Choledochal cyst
  • Inspissated bile syndrome
  • Neonatal hepatitis
In correctable cases:
Roux-en-Y hepaticojejunostomy
In noncorrectable cases:
Hepaticoportojejunostomy (Kasai’s operation)
Radical excision of all bile duct tissue up to the liver capsule is performed.
A roux-en-Y loop of jejunum is anastomosed to the exposed area of liver capsule above the bifurcation of the portal vein creating a portoenterostomy

Liver transplantation: in case of unsuccessful

Caroli’s disease

It is a congenital, multiple, irregular dilatations of the intrahepatic ducts with stenotic segments in between.
Extrahepatic biliary system is normal.

Types :

Simple type
Presents later with episodes of aqbdominal pain and biliary sepsis

Associated with:
Congenital hepatic fibrosis
Polycystic liver
Periportal fibrotic type
Presents in childhood

Periportal fibrotic type is associated with:
Biliary stasis
Stone formation and


  • Antibiotics for chalangitis and removal of calculi.
  • If limited to one lobe of liver- lobectomy

Choledochal cyst

Choledochal cysts are congenital dilations of the intra- and/or extrahepatic biliary system.

Classification (Todani)

Type Ia and b: diffuse cystic
Type II: diverticulum of the common bile duct
Type III: diverticulum within the pancreas
Type IV: extension into the liver
Type V: cystic dilatation only of the intrahepatic ducts

Clinical features
  • Can occur in any age.
  • Patients may present with jaundice, fever, abdominal pain.
  • O/E right upper quadrant mass which is smooth, soft, not moving with respiration, not mobile and resonant.

Ultrasonography abdomen:
Confirms the presence of  abnormal cyst

reveals anatomy. Esp. relationship between the lower end of the bile duct and the pancreatic duct.

show the extent of intra- and extrahepatic dilatation.

Radical excision of the cyst is the t/t of choice with reconstruction of the biliary tree using a RouX-en-Y loop of jejunum.


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  2. The biliary tract consists of small tubes (ducts) that convey bile from the liver to the gallbladder after which to the small gut. The gallbladder is a small, pear-fashioned sac located under the liver. It shops bile.
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