Gallstones: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Gallstones are pieces of hardened organic compounds that form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small organ that sits right under the liver. The gallstones could be composed of bile salts, bilirubin, and cholesterol hardened into round stones.

There are two types of gallstones. The first one is called cholesterol stone. A cholesterol stone is usually yellow-green in color. This comprises almost 80% of gallstones. The second type of gallstone is called pigment stones. Pigment stones are usually smaller yet darker in color compared to cholesterol stone.

Signs and Symptoms of Gallstones

Most times, gallstones have no symptoms or signs until it’s too late. The usual symptoms include sudden and progressive pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen, intensified pain in the center of the abdomen and back pain. Pain in the right shoulder or between the shoulder blades are signs of gallstones too. The pain could last for several minutes to days.

If you feel pain in any of the above-mentioned parts of the body and you cannot sit properly, get medical help immediately. If the pain is accompanied by yellowed skin or high fever and chills, you need to go to the hospital for treatment.

Causes of Gallstones

Your genetic makeup, body weight and lifestyle could increase the risk of developing gallstones. Poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle could also lead to the formation of gallstones.

Gallstones usually form when there is an imbalance of substances that make up the bile. Bile is a fluid secreted by the liver to process food and breakdown cholesterol. If the bile is not enough to dissolve cholesterol in the body, the excess cholesterol will start crystallizing eventually turning to hardened round growth. Gallstones could be caused by too much bilirubin in the gallbladder.

Other possible causes include the gallbladder’s inability to empty itself properly or certain medication conditions. For instance, those who suffer from liver cirrhosis or blood diseases are prone to pigment stones.

Treatment and Prevention

There are two ways to resolve this medical issue. One is to surgically remove the stones and the other is to use drugs to dissolve the stones.

If the gallstones have to be removed through surgery, the gallbladder is removed. You don’t need the gallbladder to live. It can be removed and you will still live a relatively normal life. Once the gallbladder is removed, bile will then flow directly from the liver to the small intestines rather than being stored in the gallbladder.

If your doctor recommended medications to dissolve the gallstones, you will take the drugs orally. It will take months, even years, to dissolve gallstones. There are times when medication won’t work as well. This treatment is usually reserved only for people who cannot undergo surgery.

To prevent gallstones, start adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eat high fiber, low cholesterol foods. Do not skip meals and avoid foods rich in salt.

A normal weight is also important in preventing the formation of gallstones. So try to lose weight but do so gradually. Rapid weight loss could increase the risk of gallstones. Finally, exercise regularly.

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