The bile duct system and gallbladder (collectively known as the biliary tree) are involved in the drainage and delivery of bile from the liver into the intestine. Bile production is one of the most vital functions of the liver and it is necessary for the appropriate absorption of nutrients from the intestine. Disorders of the biliary tree can alter this function. The gallbladder is located underneath the liver and the bile duct extends from inside the liver into the duodenum (initial portion of the small intestine just past the stomach). The bile duct has an extrahepatic portion (outside the liver) and intrapancreatic portion (within the pancreas).
The most common disorder of the biliary tree is cholelithiasis or gallstones. Gallstones are usually located in the gallbladder and, if symptomatic, can be removed using laparoscopy (without open surgery) along with the gallbladder. There is a 1 to 2 day hospital stay after this operation and full recuperation time is about two weeks. The presence of gallstones can be complicated by acute pancreatitis (see pancreatic surgery).