Gallstone cases are frequent in developed countries, affecting approximately 10% of adults and 20% of those over 65. However, treatment is required for only 20% of people diagnosed with gallstones.
Gallstones are pieces of solid material that develop in the gallbladder, the small, pear-shaped organ responsible for storing bile in the body. Doctors usually inform gallstone patients that they have cholelithiasis.
Your gallbladder stores and releases bile, a fluid produced in your liver to aid digestion. Bile transports wastes such as cholesterol and bilirubin, made in your body during the breakdown of red blood cells, creating gallstones.
Gallstones differ in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. You might not experience them until they block a bile duct, resulting in pain that needs immediate treatment.
Types Of Gallstones
Cholesterol stones and pigment stones are the two types of gallstones available. Cholesterol stones, the most common type of gallstone, are yellow and include undissolved cholesterol but may have other components.
Roughly 80% of patients with cholesterol stones are more prevalent in the United States. However, pigment stones are dark brown or black stones that develop when your bile has excess bilirubin.
Causes Of Gallstones
The following are the causes of gallstones:
- Excess cholesterol in your bile: These yellow cholesterol stones may develop if your liver makes more cholesterol than your bile can dissolve.
- Excess bilirubin in your bile: Bilirubin is a chemical made during the usual breakdown of red blood cells and goes through the liver to be excreted out of the body. Some conditions, like liver damage and specific blood disorders, cause your liver to develop excess bilirubin. There will be pigment gallstones when your gallbladder can’t break down the excess bilirubin.
- Concentrated bile due to a full gallbladder: Your gallbladder is supposed to empty its bile to function correctly. Otherwise, the bile becomes too concentrated and develops stones.
Symptoms Of Gallstones
Most individuals with gallstones lack any symptoms. These symptoms are often noticed during a routine x-ray, abdominal surgery, or other medical procedure.
Nevertheless, if a large stone obstructs a tube or duct that drains the gallbladder, you may experience cramping pain in the middle to right upper abdomen, known as biliary colic. The pain subsides if the stone moves into the first section of the small intestine.
Other symptoms that may occur are regular or cramping pain that can be sharp or dull in the right upper or middle upper abdomen for at least 30 minutes, fever, jaundice, clay-colored stools, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, belching, bloating, and intolerance for fatty or greasy foods.
Your doctor will inspect your eyes and skin for visible color changes to detect jaundice due to excess bilirubin in your body. Your healthcare provider carries out blood tests and imaging tests.
Blood tests can identify inflammation, infection, or jaundice and provide details about the affected organs. Imaging tests, which include ultrasound and abdominal CT scans, will help find the source of the blockage.
Moreover, it can also be diagnosed through a nuclear medicine procedure known as a gallbladder radionuclide scan, which requires about an hour to complete. After the specialist injects a radioactive substance into your veins that goes through your blood to the liver and gallbladder, it can show evidence of infection or blockage of the bile ducts from stones on a scan.
How To Prevent Gallstones?
You can prevent gallstones if you:
- Avoid skipping meals: Regularly take your usual meal times daily because skipping meals or fasting increases the risk of gallstones.
- Slowly lose weight: If you must lose weight, do it slowly because rapid weight loss increases the risk of gallstones. Try losing 1 or 2 pounds (about 0.5 to 1 kilogram) weekly.
- Consume more high-fiber foods: Add fiber-rich foods to your diet, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obese and overweight individuals are prone to the risk of gallstones. Try to limit the number of calories you consume and boost the amount of physical activity you get. After achieving a healthy weight, maintain it through a regular diet and exercise.
Treatments For Gallstones
The treatment of gallstones depends on whether symptoms are visible. Individuals with asymptomatic or small gallstones don’t need immediate treatment because they can pass naturally.
💠 Surgical Options
Nevertheless, gallstone patients can consider gallbladder removal, usually through laparoscopic cholecystectomy, a minimally invasive procedure with small incisions that often allows patients to be discharged on that day, or open cholecystectomy, which includes larger incisions and a more extended hospital stay, designed for specific cases. General anesthesia is given for both surgical options. Moreover, where gallstones are found in the bile ducts, an ERCP procedure may be conducted before or during surgery to find and remove them.
In cases where surgery is not applicable due to other medical conditions, patients can use prescribed medications such as chenodiol and ursodiol to dissolve cholesterol stones. However, this process may take years and could result in mild diarrhea and give room for stones to recur after stopping the medication.
Gallstones are pieces of solid material that develop in your gallbladder, a small organ beneath your liver. It can affect adults and harm their health. Its causes include excess cholesterol in your bile, excess bilirubin in your bile, and concentrated bile due to a full gallbladder. It can be prevented. Even after experiencing symptoms, sometimes it can go away on its own. However, if that is not the case, you can consult a doctor for treatment.