This study of sets of cholesterol gallstones collected consecutively from 222 patients in La Paz, Bolivia, and Mexico City, Mexico, has developed a reliable infrared (IR) spectroscopic method for the detection of calcium carbonate in cholesterol gallstones and provided the basis for simultaneous identification of each of its three polymorphs: calcite, vaterite, and aragonite. The peaks in the 854 to 876 cm-1 region demonstrated 98% sensitivity and specificity for carbonate detection. As little as 3% carbonate by weight could be detected using these peaks. The overall incidence of carbonate was 19% in these populations containing a high proportion of Amerinds. Infrared microspectroscopy of 10 to 50 μm particles, dissected from stones, allowed a ring-by-ring examination of 11 carbonate-containing stones. It was determined that different carbonate polymorphs, when present in the same gallstone, almost always occurred in separate rings. In approximately half of the gallstones, different polymorphs were present in successive layers in the same stone, indicating that conditions governing stone growth changed cyclically. Carbonates were usually precipitated in peripheral layers rather than in the center, supporting the theory that formation of calcium carbonates may be related to episodes of intermittent obstruction of the cystic duct, as opposed to being a major factor in stone nidation.
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