What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are hardened digestive fluid deposits that can form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a tiny, pear-shaped organ located just underneath the liver on the right side of your abdomen. A digestive fluid called bile is stored in the gallbladder and discharged into the small intestine.
They can be as little as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball in size. Some people produce one gallstone at a time, while others acquire multiple gallstones at once.
Gallstones usually require gallbladder removal surgery for those who feel symptoms.
Individuals who don’t have any symptoms usually do not require treatment.
Types of Gallstones
Gallstones can take many forms in the gallbladder, including:
A cholesterol gallstone, the most common form of gallstone, is usually yellow in color. Gallstones are mostly made up of undissolved cholesterol, although they may also contain other substances.
When your bile contains too much bilirubin, these dark brown or black stones form.
What Causes Gallstones?
Gallstones aren’t known to have a cause. However, they are thought to form when:
Excessive Cholesterol in the Bile
Normally, enough molecules are present in your bile to break down the cholesterol released by your liver. However, if your liver excretes more cholesterol than your bile can break down, the extra cholesterol may crystallize and create stones.
Gallbladder is not Emptying Properly
Bile can get exceedingly concentrated if your gallbladder isn’t emptying completely or frequently enough, which can lead to gallstone formation.
Excessive Bilirubin in the Bile
Bilirubin is a substance created by your body when red blood cells are broken down. Cirrhosis of the liver, biliary tract infections, and some blood problems all cause your liver to produce too much bilirubin. Gallstones are caused by an excess of bilirubin.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Gallstones affect the majority of people without causing any symptoms. This is due to the fact that the stones remain in the gallbladder and do not create any difficulties. Gallstones can, however, cause cholecystitis, or an inflamed gallbladder.
The most common symptom is pain that appears out of nowhere and quickly worsens. The right side of the body, directly below the ribs, between the shoulder blades, or in the right shoulder, may experience this pain.
Here are some other symptoms:
- on the right side of the torso, just below the ribcage, there is an ache.
- backache between the shoulder blades
- shoulder discomfort on the right
Risk Factors on Gallstones
People who are at risk of a gallstone include:
- women who have been pregnant
- family history
- people who have lately dropped a significant amount of weight
- women taking oral contraceptives
- those who have had gallstones in a close relative
- being sedentary
- persons who consume a lot of dietary fat
- gallstones affect twice as many women as they do males.
- people over the age of 60
- Native American Indians
- persons who take statins (cholesterol-lowering medicines)
Complications of Gallstones
Gallstones can cause a variety of complications, some of which are:
Gall Bladder Inflammation
Gallstones that become stuck in the gallbladder’s neck can cause gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis). Cholecystitis can cause excruciating discomfort and a high fever.
Gall Bladder Cancer
Gallbladder cancer is more likely in people who have had gallstones in the past, however, gallbladder cancer is quite rare, therefore even if the risk of cancer is increased, the chances of gallbladder cancer are quite low.
Pancreatic Duct Blockage
The pancreatic duct is a tube that goes from the pancreas to the common bile duct just before entering the duodenum, where it links to the common bile duct. The pancreatic duct transports pancreatic fluids, which facilitate digestion.
A gallstone can induce a blockage in the pancreatic duct, resulting in pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis). Pancreatitis is characterized by severe, continuous stomach pain that requires hospitalization.
Blockage of the Common Bile Duct
Gallstones can obstruct the ducts that carry bile from the gallbladder or liver to the small intestine. Severe pain, jaundice, and a bile duct infection are all possible outcomes.
How to Diagnose Gallstones
Gallstones and their complications are diagnosed using the following tests and procedures:
This is the most common test for detecting symptoms of gallstones. A device called a transducer is moved back and forth across your stomach area during abdominal ultrasonography. The transducer provides signals to a computer, which generates images of your abdomen’s structures.
Gallstones can cause infection, jaundice, pancreatitis, and other issues, which can be detected with blood tests.
This method can assist in detecting tiny stones that an abdominal ultrasound may miss. A thin, flexible tube called an endoscope is passed into the mouth and into the digestive tract during EUS. In the tube, a small ultrasound device called a transducer creates sound waves that produce a precise image of the surrounding tissue.
Other Imagery Tests
Oral cholecystography, a hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography are some of the other procedures that may be performed (ERCP). Gallstones detected during an ERCP operation can be removed at the same time.
How to Treat Gallstones
Gallstones that do not produce symptoms in the majority of people will never require treatment. Based on your symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests, your doctor will assess if gallstone treatment is necessary. Gallstones can be treated in several ways; let’s discuss some.
Surgical Removal of the Gallbladder (Cholecystectomy)
If gallstones regularly return, your doctor may recommend that you have your gallbladder removed. Rather than being held in your gallbladder once your gallbladder is removed, bile flows directly from your liver into your small intestine. You don’t need your gallbladder to live, and removing it has no effect on your capacity to digest food, however, gallbladder removal can induce diarrhea, which is generally only temporary.
Medications for Gallstones
Oral medications may aid in the dissolution of gallstones, however, it may take months or years of treatment to eliminate your gallstones in this method, and if treatment is discontinued, gallstones would most likely grow again. Medication does not always work. Gallstones medications are rarely utilized and are only prescribed for those who are unable to undergo surgery.
How to Prevent Gallstones
You can lower your chance of gallstones through the following ways:
Make an effort to eat at the same time every day. Gallstones can be exacerbated by skipping meals or fasting.
Lose Weight Slowly
Maintain a Healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)
Gallstones are more likely to form in those who are obese or overweight. Reduce the number of calories you consume and increase the quantity of physical activity you obtain to achieve a healthy weight. Once you’ve reached a healthy weight, keep it off by sticking to a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
Consume High-Fiber Foods
Now that you Know…
Gallstones, in the vast majority of cases, are asymptomatic and don’t require treatment. They can produce complications such as infections, obstructions, and inflammation in less common occurrences. Eating a well-balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly can all help you stay symptom-free. If you’re worried about gallstones, talk to your doctor about keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels and getting a checkup.