Things you need to know
- The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that sits below the liver. It is responsible for storing and releasing bile juice (digestive fluid) produced by the liver.
- Gallstones are small deposits of hardened minerals that form and store inside the gallbladder.
- Gallstones can affect any individual irrespective of their age and gender.
Gallstones are hardened pieces of digestive fluid that form and collect inside the gallbladder. These stones can range in size and numbers.
Your gallbladder stores and releases bile juice which is a fluid produced by your liver. Bile promotes your digestion by breaking down fats into fatty acids so they can be absorbed easily by your organs in your digestive tract. This fluid also contains certain waste components such as cholesterol. A presence of excessive waste elements can lead to the formation of gallstones.
Gallstones affect any individual differently. While some people do not experience any gallstones symptoms, others face intense pain and discomfort. Common signs and symptoms of gallstones include:
- Sudden and increasing pain in the upper right portion and centre of abdomen
- Pain in the back, especially between shoulder blades
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Nausea and vomiting
What causes gallstones?
There is no single reason for what causes gallstones. Experts believe that the following factors can trigger the formation of stones in your gallbladder:
Bile juice usually has sufficient chemicals to absorb cholesterol released by your liver. However, sometimes your liver may secrete a higher quantity of cholesterol making it difficult to be absorbed by bile. This excess cholesterol can turn into small crystals and stones.
Your body produces a chemical called bilirubin when red blood cells break down. Certain health conditions such as cirrhosis, biliary tract infections and certain blood disorders can trigger the production of excess bilirubin. An increased quantity of bilirubin can lead to gallstones formation.
Inability to empty gallbladder
There are some health conditions that can cause difficulty in emptying your gallbladder. In such cases, bile juice can remain in the gallbladder and become concentrated leading to gallstones.
While anyone can be affected by gallstones, some individuals are at a higher risk of developing this condition. Risk factors of gallstones include:
- Being female
- Advanced age (over 40)
- Eating a high-fat, low-fibre diet
- Family history
- Blood disorders
Gallstones are usually diagnosed when a patient presents with troubling symptoms. Your healthcare provider will examine your condition and discuss your symptoms as well as your overall medical history. He/she may further order certain tests and procedures to diagnose your condition. Tests and procedures done to diagnose gallstones include:
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- CT scan
- Blood tests
Your gallstones treatment will depend on several factors such as severity of your symptoms, your overall health, age and number and size of stones.
Gallstones treatment usually includes surgical intervention in which your surgeon removes the gallbladder. This procedure is known as cholecystectomy.
If left untreated, gallstones can cause inflammation of the gallbladder, blockage of common bile duct tubes and even gallbladder cancer.
You can prevent gallstones by losing weight gradually, eating high-fibre foods and eating meals without skipping.
Yes, it is possible to flush out gallstones when they are detected early. You can treat gallstones without surgery by modifying your dietary intake.