Health & Nutrition

Gallstones: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Gallstones: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

The gallbladder is a small organ that is located in the upper right of your abdomen, below the liver. The organ itself is a pouch that stores bile, a yellow-green coloured liquid that helps with digestion. When something is blocking the bile duct, such as a gallstone, issues with the gallbladder might occur.

Gallstones are typically created when substances such as cholesterol, which are found in bile, harden. Gallstones are quite common and do not always cause symptoms. However, around ten percent of people with gallstones will develop symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

Gallstones are often asymptomatic. However, they can lead to symptoms such as pain in the upper right abdomen or the centre of your stomach. You may experience gallbladder pain after eating high-fat foods, although it can occur at any time. Typically, the pain will only last for a few hours, but it can be quite severe.

When gallstones are left unidentified or untreated, you may experience further symptoms including a rapid heartbeat, a high temperature, itchy skin, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, chills, diarrhoea, confusion, and a loss of appetite.

If you experience these symptoms, it may be a sign of several issues including an infection in the gallbladder, or inflammation of the gallbladder, pancreas, or liver. Circle Health Group can help if you are experiencing abdominal pain and suspect that your gallbladder might be to blame. Circle Health Group offer a range of private healthcare treatments including several abdominal pain procedures.

What Causes Gallstones?

The actual cause of gallstones is considered to be the result of an imbalance of chemicals in bile inside the gallbladder. While scientists are not yet completely sure of the exact cause of this imbalance, there are a few potential reasons, which include:

Too Much Cholesterol in the Bile

A high amount of cholesterol in the bile can cause yellow stones. They are hard stones that might occur if your liver is making more cholesterol than your bile is able to dissolve.

Concentrated Bile

In order to function properly, your gallbladder needs to be able to empty its bile. If it fails to do this, the bile can become overly concentrated, which can result in the formation of gallstones.

Too Much Bilirubin in the Bile

Bilirubin is a chemical that is produced during red blood cell breakdown. Once it is produced, it goes through the liver and eventually passes out of the body as waste. However, some conditions, including some blood disorders and liver damage, will cause the liver to overproduce bilirubin. When your gallbladder is unable to break down the excess, pigment gallstones will form. They are often black or dark brown.

Treatment Options

In most cases, treatment for gallstones is not required unless they are causing pain. It is possible to pass gallstones unaware. However, if you are in pain, surgery is likely to be recommended. There are some non-surgical options, which can be an option for those who are at a high risk of surgical complications.

The main type of surgery used to treat gallstones is cholecystectomy, or surgery to remove the gallbladder. Since the gallbladder is not an essential organ, you can live a healthy and safe life without it. You can get two different types of this surgery, which are:

Open Cholecystectomy: This is usually performed if the gallbladder is infected, inflamed, or scarred. It involves making an incision outside of the body to remove the gallbladder.

Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: This is the most common type of surgical procedure. It is done by making three to four small incisions in the abdomen, before inserting a small light into one of the incisions to check for stones and carefully remove the gallbladder. In most cases, you can go home on the same day or the day after.

After having your gallbladder removed, you may experience some side effects including loose or watery stools. Gallbladder removal means that your body needs to reroute the bile from the liver to the small intestine since the bile is no longer going through the gallbladder. This causes it to become less concentrated, which can produce an immediate laxative effect that should resolve on its own for most people.

If surgery cannot be performed, there are some nonsurgical options to consider. These include oral dissolution therapy which uses medication to break up the gallstones, and shock wave lithotripsy, which generates shock waves that go through the body and can break the gallstones down. Another treatment option is percutaneous drainage of the gallbladder, which involves placing a sterile needle into the gallbladder to draw out the bile, before inserting a tube to help with additional drainage.

Gallstones may be present in your gallbladder without any signs or symptoms. However, they can become symptomatic and lead to abdominal pain, discomfort, and other issues.

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