Gallstones: Causes, Types, Symptoms Problem & Treatment
You might not even know you have gallstones until they block a bile duct, causing pain that you need to get treated right away. They aren’t really stones. They’re pieces of solid material that form in the gallbladder, a small organ located under the liver.
Your gallbladder is a small organ below the liver in the upper right abdomen. It’s a pouch that stores bile, a green-yellow liquid that helps with digestion. Most gallstones form when there’s too much cholesterol in the bile.
So, Pain in the upper abdominal area could indicate a gallbladder problem. It releases bile through ducts into the small intestine to help break down the foods you eat — particularly fatty foods.
Typically the gallbladder doesn’t cause too many problems or much concern, but if something slows or blocks the flow of bile from the gallbladder, a number of problems can result.
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What causes Gallstones?
It’s not known exactly what causes gallstones to form, though there are some theories. According to Harvard Health Publications, 80 percent of gallstones are made of cholesterol. The other 20 percent of gallstones are made of calcium salts and bilirubin. Another factor include:
- Your genes
- Your weight
- Problems with your gallbladder
Types of Gallstones
The two main kinds are gallstones, which are:
1. Cholesterol stones. These are usually yellow-green in color. They’re the most common kind, accounting for 80% of gallstones.
2. 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.
Symptoms related to Gallstones
Most gallbladder symptoms start with pain in the upper abdominal area, either in the upper right or middle. You may start to have gallbladder pain from time to time when you eat foods that are high in fat, such as fried foods. The pain doesn’t usually last more than a few hours. [ 16 Best Foods For Your Health]
But symptoms could most times vary according to what type of gallbladder condition you have, although many symptoms are common among the various types of gallbladder.
You may also experience:
- Dark urine
- Stomach pain
- Pain that increases when you breathe in deeply
- Heartburn and excessive gas
- Chest pain
- A feeling of fullness in the abdomen
- Fever, ranging from low-grade to severe
- Shaking with chills
- Stools of an unusual color (often lighter, like clay)
- Dark urine (often described as tea-colored)
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 80 percent of people have “silent gallstones.” This means they don’t experience pain or have symptoms. In these cases, your doctor may discover the gallstones from X-rays or during diagnose, or even during abdominal surgery.
If you spot any symptoms of gallbladder trouble, see your doctor for a diagnosis and prompt treatment to get your digestive tract running smoothly again. It’s essential to seek immediate treatment if you develop a severe gallstone complication that causes any of the following symptoms:
1. Abdominal pain so severe you can’t sit or lie still or keep food down
2. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
3. Severe fever
When a gallstone blocks the duct where bile moves from the gallbladder, it can cause inflammation and infection in the gallbladder. This is known as acute cholecystitis. It is a medical emergency.
Symptoms associated with acute cholecystitis include:
- Intense Pain In The Upper Stomach Or Mid-Right Back
- Appetite loss
- Nausea and vomiting
Some gallbladder problems, like simple gallstones that are not blocking the bile ducts, often cause no symptoms at all.
If you spot any symptoms of gallbladder trouble, see your doctor for a diagnosis and prompt treatment to get your digestive tract running smoothly again.
It’s essential to seek immediate treatment if you develop a severe gallstone complication that causes any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain so severe you can’t sit or lie still or keep food down
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Severe fever
How are gallstones treated?
Most of the time, you won’t need treatment for gallstones unless they cause you pain. Sometimes you can pass gallstones without even noticing. If you’re in pain, your doctor will likely recommend surgery. In rare cases, medication may be used.
If you’re at high risk for surgery complications, a drainage tube may be placed into the gallbladder through the skin. Your surgery may be postponed until your risk is lowered by treating your other medical conditions.
Natural treatment and home remedies
If you have gallstones and no symptoms, you can make certain lifestyle changes.
Some nutritional supplements you can take include vitamin C, iron, and lecithin. One review found that vitamin C and lecithin can decrease the risk of gallstones.
Your doctor may need to perform a laparoscopic gallbladder removal. This is a common surgery that requires general anesthesia. The surgeon will usually make 3 or 4 incisions in your abdomen. They’ll then insert a small, lighted device into one of the incisions and carefully remove your gallbladder.
You may experience loose or watery stools after gallbladder removal. Removing a gallbladder involves rerouting the bile from the liver to the small intestine. Bile no longer goes through the gallbladder and it becomes less concentrated. The result is a laxative effect that causes diarrhea. To treat this, eat a diet lower in fats so that you release less bile.
Medication is not commonly used anymore because laparoscopic and robotic techniques make surgery much less risky than it used to be.
However, if you can’t have surgery, you can take ursodiol (Actigall, Urso) to dissolve gallstones caused by cholesterol. You’ll need to take this drug 2 to 4 times per day. Medications may take several years to eliminate the gallstones, and the gallstones may form again if you stop treatment.
Foods to avoid
- To help improve your condition and reduce your risk of gallstones, try these tips:
Reduce your intake of fats and choose low-fat foods whenever possible. Avoid high-fat, greasy, and fried foods.
- Add fiber to your diet to make your bowel movements more solid. Try to add only a serving of fiber at a time to prevent gas that can occur from eating excess fiber.
- Avoid foods and drinks known to cause diarrhea, including caffeinated drinks, high-fat dairy products, and very sweet foods.
- Eat several small meals per day. Smaller meals are easier for the body to digest.
Drink a sufficient amount of water. This is about 6 to 8 glasses per day.