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Gallstones- Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

29 September, 2020 Virali Mehta

The gallbladder is a small organ that is situated below the liver in the upper right abdomen. It is a pouch shape organ that stores bile which is a green-yellow liquid. This liquid is helpful indigestion. But too much cholesterol can lead to the building of yellow cholesterol stones. These hard stones appear if the liver makes more cholesterol in a huge quantity that the bile cannot dissolve. Gallstones do not create pain by themselves rather the pain tends to happen when the gallstones are seen blocking the movement of bile from the gallbladder.

Other causes that lead to the formation may be discussed here. Gallstones are also created if the amount of bilirubin is more in bile. Bilirubin is a chemical that is produced when the liver destroys old red blood cells. In the case of liver damage or blood disorders, the liver produces bilirubin in large quantities.

Even pigment gallstones appear when the gallbladder is not able to break down the excess bilirubin, which appears in black or brown. 

The gallbladder should be in a continuous process to empty its bile so that it can function properly. If it does not happen then the bile tends to become overly concentrated, which leads to stone formation.

Symptoms  of  Gallstones

Gallstones tend to create pain in the upper right abdomen when high fats food is eaten like fried foods. However, the pain may resist only for a few hours. Other symptoms include-

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Stomach pain at regular intervals
  • Burping
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion

Types of Gallstones

  • Cholesterol Gallstones-  This is the most common type of cholesterol which is found in most of the cases. It is yellow in color and is mostly composed of undissolved cholesterol.

  • Pigment Gallstones- They are dark brown or black in color due to the presence of excess bilirubin.

Risk Factors Involved In Gallstones

The risk factors involved in gallstone vary from person to person. However, the common ones are-

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating a diet  high in fat or cholesterol
  • Consuming a low fiber diet
  • Having diabetes
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Having a family history of gallstones
  • Being 60 years or above
  • Having medicines that are high in estrogen content
  • Having cirrhosis

Complications 

Untreated gallstones may cause complications such as-

  • Jaundice
  • Cholecystitis
  • Cholangitis, a bile duct infection
  • Sepsis, A blood infection
  • Pancreas inflammation
  • Gallbladder cancer

However, when the gallstone blocks the duct where bile tends to move from the gallbladder, it causes infection. This is known as Acute Cholecystitis, which is the sign of a medical emergency. Symptoms associated with this are-

  • Intense pain in the upper stomach
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Diagnosis of Gallstones

The diagnosis of gallstones is done by different methods for every patient as it depends on the type and stage of the disease. The doctor at first undergoes a physical examination where a change in the color of eyes and skin is noticed at first. However, this diagnosis may include various tests such as-

  • Ultrasound - It portrays the image of the abdomen where the stone can be detected easily and other abnormalities with acute cholecystitis can also be learned.
  • Abdominal CT scan- It shows the liver and abdominal region.
  • Blood tests- It helps in determining the functionality of the liver and the amount of bilirubin that is present in the blood.
  • Gallbladder Radionuclide Scan-A A hour scan where a specialist injects a radioactive substance in the veins which travels through the veins to reveal the evidence of infection or blockage of the bile from the stones.
  • ERCP- In this test, a camera and X-ray are used to look at the problems that are there in bile and pancreatic ducts. It also detects the gallstones. 

Treatment of Gallstones

In most cases, gallstones do not require any treatment until they cause pain. If there is excess pain then surgery is recommended. However, 3meds, the best online medical app in India brings various treatments and medications that patients might undergo during gallstones.

  • Ursodiol (Actigall, Urso) tablet, is best suggested for gallstones.
  • Stone crush Stone care
  • GallCleanse
  • Shock Wave Therapy is a treatment where a lithotripter machine generates shock waves which can further break gallstones into smaller pieces.
  • The doctor may also advise for a Laparoscopic Gallbladder  Removal Surgery in case the condition is beyond control.

However if one wants to improve their condition or reduce the risks of gallstones, the following tips may be taken into consideration-

  • Reduce the intake of high fat and fried foods.
  • A fiber-rich diet is necessary to make the bowel movements solid. 
  • Avoid high-fat dairy products, caffeinated drinks, sweet foods.
  • One should eat several small meals per day as they are easy for the body to digest.
  • A tendency of having 8-10 glasses of water throughout the day should be taken into practice.

Outlook

Gallstones generally do not tend to appear after the surgery. However, is it is left untreated it can come again with severe symptoms.  Thus, it is very important to maintain a healthy diet, avoid rapid weight loss, consume an anti-inflammatory diet, regular exercise, and consume more of Vitamin C, iron, and lecithin. Having surgery is not a negative thing but taking preventive measures right from the beginning is of utmost importance.