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Gallbladder Stones: Everything You Need to Know

What are gallbladder stones?|Symptoms|Causes and Risk Factors|Treatment|Prevention
Gallbladder Stones: Everything You Need to Know

Having gallbladder stones or gallstones can cause serious pain and discomfort. If left untreated, it can lead to serious damage in the gallbladder, and can even spread infection throughout the body. This is why knowing the symptoms of gallstones, what causes it, its risk factors, and gallbladder stones treatment is important.

What are gallbladder stones?

Gallbladder stones result from the buildup of digestive fluid in the gallbladder. The liver sends bile to be stored in the gallbladder. Then, whenever we eat, the gallbladder sends this bile into our digestive tract.

However, if there are some imbalances in the composition of the bile such as cholesterol or bilirubin left in the gallbladder, this can slowly build up over time, and turn into gallstones.

Gallstones can also vary in size. Some are the size of pebbles, while others can be as large as a golf ball. Most of the time, patients with gallstones don’t even experience any symptoms if the stones are still very small.

However, gallstones can grow bigger over time, and eventually, they can block the duct of the gallbladder, or come out of the gallbladder and fall in the ducts that connect to the liver, or pancreas. This is a cause for concern, because once the ducts get blocked, this can lead to inflammation of the gallbladder.

If the gallbladder gets inflamed, it can cause serious pain, and can even lead to complications that can affect nearby organs. This is why gallstones should never be ignored, especially when the symptoms start to appear.

Symptoms

Here are some of the common symptoms of gallstones:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Pain triggered by eating a meal
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden weight loss

If you experience any combination of these symptoms, it would be best to consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Causes and Risk Factors

Finding the exact cause of gallstones can be difficult. Most of the time, it’s unclear why a person develops gallstones exactly. However there are some things that doctors believe might be responsible:

High cholesterol

High cholesterol levels in the blood can cause crystals to form in the gallbladder. Over time, these crystals can grow larger and eventually turn into gallstones. In fact, about 80% of gallstones are cholesterol stones.

The gallbladder does not empty

When the gallbladder fills up with bile, it’s supposed to empty itself after digestion. However, there are situations where this doesn’t happen. As a result, small amounts of bile remain in the gallbladder, and these can crystallize and form into stones over time.

High levels of bilirubin in the blood

Bilirubin, which is a substance produced when red blood cells break down, can build up in a person’s blood. If the levels of bilirubin get too high, then it can start to crystallize in the gallbladder and form stones.

This typically happens in people with jaundice or liver problems.

Risk Factors

Here are some risk factors associated with gallbladder stones:

  • A family history of gallstones
  • If you are 40 or older
  • If you’re a woman
  • Having a diet that’s low in fiber
  • Losing a lot of weight too quickly
  • Eating a high-fat or high-cholesterol diet
  • Being overweight or obese

All of these things can increase a person’s risk for gallbladder stones.

Gallstones Causes: How do you get gallstones?

Treatment

When it comes to treating gallstones, there are different options available:

Surgery

The most common form of treatment for gallstones is surgery. While the gallbladder does play a role in digestion, people can live without a gallbladder. As one means to treat gallstones and prevent them from reoccurring, the gallbladder is taken out completely.

Lithotripsy

In some cases, it’s possible to break down gallstones. This form of treatment is called lithotripsy, and uses sound waves to break down the gallstones. This is also similar to what doctors use to treat kidney stones and bladder stones.

Medication

Certain types of medication can help break up gallstones in the gallbladder. Your doctor might prescribe ursodiol, a drug that helps dissolve gallstones. This is usually applicable in smaller stones, and could take months or even years of taking the medication. Even then it may still not remove the stones.

Once the stones have been broken up, they can easily pass through the bile duct and can be expelled by the body. However, one of the problems with using medication is that gallstones tend to have a habit of recurring.

Prevention

Here are some things that you can do in order to prevent gallstones:

  • Be sure to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and low in fatty and cholesterol-rich foods.
  • Stay active; try to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day, or 150 minutes each week.
  • If you’re obese or overweight, it would be best to try and lose weight and keep the weight off.

Preventing gallstones is pretty straightforward. So long as you try and stay healthy and avoid fatty foods, you can significantly decrease your risk of developing stones in your gallbladder.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Gallstones and Bile Duct Stones – Symptoms and Treatment | Virginia Mason, https://www.virginiamason.org/gallstones-and-bile-duct-stones, Accessed December 16, 2020

Gallstones – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/symptoms-causes/syc-20354214, Accessed December 16, 2020

Gallstones: Treatment, Definition, Risk Factors & Symptoms, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7313-gallstones, Accessed December 16, 2020

Gallstones – NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gallstones/, Accessed December 16, 2020

Gallstones | Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/gallstones, Accessed December 16, 2020

Gallstones | Radiology Reference Article | Radiopaedia.org, https://radiopaedia.org/articles/gallstones-1, Accessed December 16, 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 08
Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, M.D.
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