What are Gallstones?

 

Gallstones are hardened digestive fluid deposits that form in the gallbladder.

 

The gallbladder is a thin pear-shaped hollow sac located in the right upper abdomen, right underneath the liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid that releases into your small intestine to aid in digestion.

 

When the gallbladder becomes diseased, the flow of bile thickens, and gradually solidifies to form stones. Gallstones can become painful when they block a bile duct. Someone can suffer from one or multiple gallstones.

 

There are two different types of gallstones:

 

  • Cholesterol stones: are made up of hardened cholesterol. These account for 80% of gallstones.

  • Pigment stones: are made up of bilirubin, and are typically associated with liver damage or bile infections.

 

People also often confuse gallstones with kidney stones.

 

  • Gallstones are usually caused by undissolved cholesterol. They are located in the gallbladder and bile ducts. Small stones may be passed in the stool.

  • Kidney stones are caused by a high concentration of minerals and calcium in your urine. They are made in the kidney and ureter, and small stones can be passed in the urine.

 

Over 25 million Americans have experienced gallstones, with about 1 million new cases occurring each year. 

 

What Causes Gallstones?

 

The exact cause of gallstones remains unclear, but there can be risk factors that lead to the development of gallstones. These may include:

 

  • An excess of cholesterol or other chemicals in your gallbladder, which can be caused by a high-fat or high-cholesterol diet.

  • If your gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly or frequently enough

  • Being female

  • Being 40 or older

  • Not moving enough

  • Having diabetes

  • Taking estrogen-containing medications (such as birth control)

  • Liver disease

  • Pregnancy

  • Obesity

 

What are the Symptoms of Gallstones?

 

Most individuals with gallstones do not experience any symptoms. However, some signs and symptoms of gallstones can include:

 

  • Right upper abdominal pain

  • Central abdominal pain

  • Back pain

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)

  • Fever

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Indigestion

  • Heartburn

  • Gas

 

Complications of gallstones can include:

 

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder

  • Blockage of the common bile duct

  • Blockage of the pancreatic duct- this can cause pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

 

How are Gallstones Diagnosed?

 

If you report experiencing symptoms, your doctor may order additional tests such as liver and pancreas blood tests to measure the enzymes in your blood. High levels of enzymes can indicate damage to the organs.

 

An ultrasound of your abdomen can also be done to create a picture of your gallbladder and ducts.

 

Occasionally, gallstones that are calcified may show up on routine x-rays.

 

What is the Treatment for Gallstones?

 

If your gallstones are not causing any symptoms, treatment is not needed. However, painful gallstones may require intervention.

 

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, recommended treatment may vary. It is best to consult with your GI doctor to create the best gallstone treatment plan for you.

 

Some small gallstones leave the gallbladder and get moved into the small bowel, where they are passed in the stool. 

 

Some gallstones can be dissolved with oral medications. However, this may take months or years, and gallstones may form again.

 

Surgery to remove the gallbladder can completely stop gallstones from recurring.

 

While there is no way to guarantee gallstone prevention, reducing the risk of developing gallstones can include eating a healthy high-fiber low-fat diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and regularly exercising.

Find more to read on this topic here and on our Blog.

GDC Business Card FRONT JUNE 2020.PNG