Cholelithiasis, the medical term for gallstones.

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A student recently shared she still has a hard time distinguishing the terms cholelithiasis and choledocholithiasis.

“What’s the difference?” she asked.

Excellent question!

Let’s take a closer look.

Word Parts and Combining Forms

Both terms can be generally defined through the meaning of their parts, so we will begin with word parts and combining forms.

Word Part/Combining FormDefinition
chol/egall, bile
choledoch/ocommon bile duct
lith/ostone, calculus

So here we see that the combining forms for “gall, bile” and “common bile duct” are similar. I notice that choledoch/o has a “d” just like “duct” in its definition.

This helps me remember that when I see a term constructed from the combining form choledoch/o it will in some way refer to the common bile duct.

Medical Terms

In looking at the terms through the meaning of their word parts and combining forms, we find the following general definitions:

chol/e/lith/iasis, condition of gallstones

choledoch/o/lith/iasis, condition of stones in the common bile duct

Common sites of cholelithiasis and choledocholithiasis

More specifically, cholelithiasis refers to gallstones formed in the gallbladder and occurring anywhere in the biliary tract (hepatic duct, cystic duct, and common bile duct), though the most common location is the gallbladder.

Choledocholithiasis indicates the presence of one or more stones within the common bile duct, which is the passageway that carries bile from the gallbladder and liver to the duodenum.

From this I can see that cholelithiasis tells “what” and choledocholithiasis gives a bit more information overtly, telling “what and where.”

So we have taken a step towards sorting out the difference between cholelithiasis and choledocholithiasis. May your studies go well!

Until next time,


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Reference List

Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 32e. (2012). Philadelphia: Saunders/Elsevier.

Heuman, D.M. (2014). Cholelithiasis. WebMD LLC. Retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/175667-overview#aw2aab6b2b1aa.

LaFleur Brooks, M., LaFleur Brooks, D. (2018). Exploring Medical Language, 10e. St. Louis: Mosby/Elsevier.

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Common Sites… image from Exploring Medical Language, 10e. St. Louis: Mosby/Elsevier.