Gallstones are hard particles that develop in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located in the upper right abdomen. Thus the area between the chest and hips below the liver. Gallstones can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Besides, the gallbladder can develop a single large gallstone, hundreds of tiny stones, or both small and large stones.
If gallstones block your bile ducts, bile could build up in your gallbladder. This causes a gallbladder attack, sometimes called biliary colic. Gallbladder attacks usually cause pain in your upper right abdomen, sometimes lasting several hours.
Types of gallstones
The two main kinds are:
- Cholesterol stones. These are usually yellow-green in color. They’re the most common kind, accounting for 80% of gallstones. They can occur if your liver produces too much cholesterol.
- Pigment stones. These stones are smaller and darker. They’re made up of bilirubin, which comes from bile, a fluid your liver makes and your gallbladder stores.
What causes gallstones?
Gallstones develop because of an imbalance in the chemical make-up of bile inside the gallbladder. It may form if bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin, or not enough bile salts. However, scientists do not fully understand why these changes in bile occur. Gallstones also may form if the gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough.
Who is at risk of gallstones?
You’re more at risk of developing gallstones if you have conditions such as:
- Obesity, first and foremost, this is one of the biggest risk factors. Obesity can raise your cholesterol level and also make it harder for the gallbladder to empty completely.
- Also, people taking birth control pills such as hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms, or are pregnant. The extra estrogen is the problem. It can increase cholesterol and make it harder for the gallbladder to empty.
- Moreover, people with diabetes. This condition tend to have higher levels of triglycerides (a type of blood fat), which prone you to gallstones.
- Additionally, taking medications to lower your cholesterol. Some of these drugs boost the amount of cholesterol in bile, which may increase your chances of getting cholesterol stones.
- Furthermore, you lost weight too quickly. Your liver makes extra cholesterol, which may lead to gallstones.
- You’re fasting. Your gallbladder may not squeeze as much.
- Certain diets such as high fat, high cholesterol and low fibre diet
- People over age 40 are more likely to develop gallstones than younger people.
- Rapid weight loss. As the body breaks down fat during prolonged fasting and rapid weight loss, the liver secretes extra cholesterol into bile. Rapid weight loss can also prevent the gallbladder from emptying properly.
What are the symptoms gallstones?
Most cases of gallstones don’t cause any symptoms. But if a gallstone blocks one of the bile ducts, it can cause sudden, severe abdominal pain. Other signs and symptoms may include:
- Back pain between your shoulder blades. The pain usually occur in the evening or during the night.
- Pain in your right shoulder
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Fever or chills
- Yellowish color of your skin or whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Light-colored stools
- Indigestion, flatulence (wind) or general discomfort in the abdomen.
Diagnosing gallstones depends on the situation. Tests and procedures include:
- Physical examination. Your doctor uses his hand or fingers on the upper-right area of your tummy and asks you to breathe in. If you find this painful, it usually means your gallbladder is inflamed and you may need urgent treatment.
- Blood tests may be used to check for infection, jaundice and also obstruction in the bile ducts.
- An abdominal ultrasound and a computerized tomography (CT) scan to create pictures of your gallbladder.
The usual treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder. But if a person cannot undergo surgery, nonsurgical treatments may be used to dissolve cholesterol gallstones.
Surgical removal of the gallbladder is cholecystecomy. It is the most common way of treating gallstones. You can usually go home on the day of the operation or the morning after. However, any pain can be treated with paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medications such as diclofenac.
A healthy diet won’t cure gallstones or completely eliminate your symptoms. But it can improve your general health and help control gallstone pain. Eat variety of foods, including moderate amounts of fat, and having regular meals.
Additionally, reducing the number of calories you eat and increasing the amount of physical activity you get also helps. Once you achieve a healthy weight, work to maintain that weight by continuing your healthy diet and continuing to exercise.
Furthermore, don’t skip meals. Try to stick to your usual mealtimes each day. Skipping meals or fasting can increase the risk of gallstones. Moreover, lose weight slowly. If you need to lose weight, go slow.