Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile formed within the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small sac just below our liver. Its primary function is to store the bile produced by the liver and to pass it through the duct that empties into the small intestine. The primary purpose of the bile is to digest the fat in the small intestine. Sometimes the components of bile harden to form stone-like deposits in the gallbladder, and these stones block the bile ducts, leading to complications.
Gallstones develop when cholesterol levels in the bile are too high, and excess cholesterol turns into stones. Presence of gallstones in the gallbladder may also be termed as cholelithiasis.
It is quite interesting to note that almost eighty percent people with gallstones do not have any signs. They might not even know that they have gallstones. These type of stones are called silent stones, and they don’t require any treatment.
The most common symptoms of gallstone are:
- Gallstone attack which is a severe pain in the upper-right side of the abdomen.
- Nausea and vomiting which may continue for several hours.
- Pain beneath the right shoulder or between the shoulder blades.
It may be noted that the pain often starts after a heavy meal or at night, or after drinking.
The people with the highest risk of having gallstones are:
- Obese and overweight people.
- People above the age of sixty.
- Females who are nearing menopause.
- Females who are using birth control pills.
- Consuming medicines which contain estrogen.
- People having disease and conditions that affect nutrients absorption are more likely to have it.
- Sometimes it runs in the family.
- Some ethnic groups are more prone to gallstones.
- Women are more likely to have had gallstones compared to men.
- People who are suffering from constipation.
- People do not take proper nutritional care and have less than three meals a day are at risk of gallstones.
- Rapid weight loss can also trigger gallstones.
To prevent gallstones, Dr. Susan Ng, a Gastroenterologist in East Bay, recommends the following best practices:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle and opt for healthier options in our food choices and day to day activities.
- A balanced diet with a proper intake of vitamins c, calcium, magnesium and folic acid can avoid the occurrence of gallstones.
- People should also keep a check on their weight because not only being overweight triggers this problem but even losing weight rapidly.
- Regular exercising is also very essential.
- If a patient shows the symptoms of gallstones, then ultrasound scans are arranged to look inside the gallbladder for stones.
- Liver function tests are also suggested to check liver function.
- The doctor can also conduct Murphy’s sign test which involves the patient breathing in and the doctor tapping on the abdomen near the gallbladder. If this hurts, it is an indication of gallbladder inflammation.
- Sometimes MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan may be arranged, and sometimes CT scans are also suggested.
- If severe gallbladder disease is suspected, then immediate admission to hospital may be necessary for further treatment.
- Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: It is the most common treatment for gallstones is an operation to remove the gallbladder. This procedure is usually performed with keyhole surgery called laparoscopic cholecystectomy. In this process, the surgeon’s instrument, light and a camera are passed through several small cuts in the abdomen.
- Nowadays an advanced type of this surgery is done by making a Single-incision laparoscopic cholecystectomy. It is done similarly but with just a single cut.
- Open Cholecystectomy: Sometimes when laparoscopic surgery is not appropriate, Open cholecystectomy may be suggested. This procedure involves a larger incision beneath the ribs.
- Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This procedure aims to remove bile duct stones. Sometimes it is the only procedure needed. However, the gallbladder and stones in the bladder remain. A heated wire is passed through an instrument called an endoscope to widen the opening in the bile duct and remove duct stones.
- Non-surgical treatments for gallstone: A medicine called ursodeoxycholic acid can help dissolve non-calcified cholesterol gallstones. It is sometimes preferred over surgery. A low cholesterol diet may be recommended along with this treatment. It can affect the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill so that additional precautions may be prescribed.
- Lithotripsy: It uses tightly focused ultrasonic shock waves to break up gallstones into smaller pieces. But sometimes little gallstones remain, and there are complications from smaller pieces left behind.
Now you understand What Gallstones are, its Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Cures. Make good use of this information and share it with all those who may have an increased risk of developing gallstones.