The gallbladder is an organ present in the upper part of your abdomen below the liver. Its function is to store and deliver the bile to the small intestine. It also stores other fluids, fats, cholesterol etc. In some conditions, there are some small and hard deposits formed in the gallbladder, which are referred to as gallstones. These can remain undiagnosed for years until the symptoms of gallstones start to show.
Characteristics of gallstones
Gallstones can be of varying sizes. They are mostly small in size but can grow up to several centimetres. Most gallstones are made up of cholesterol stones while a few smaller ones are made of bilirubin and known as pigment stones. Gallstones usually result from a chemical imbalance in the organ. Patients can have a single large gallstone or several small ones.
What causes gallstones to form?
In most cases, gallstones are a cause of excessive cholesterol in the bile. In this case, the liver produces more cholesterol than the bile juice can dissolve. It leads to the formation of yellow cholesterol stones. In other cases, the liver starts producing more bilirubin than it is required. This can be due to liver damage or any blood-related disease. In this condition, small brown coloured gallstones are formed. The symptoms of gallstones may also be seen in case your gallbladder isn’t emptied completely. This leads to the concentration of bile and interferes with the functioning of the gall bladder.
The risk of developing gallstones increases during pregnancy. Other risk factors associated with gallstones are overweight, sudden weight loss due to a starvation diet or taking medication like birth control pills. Women are more susceptible to forming gallstones. Some other conditions that may lead to the formation of gallstones are-
- Low physical activity
- Family history of the condition
- Intestinal diseases
- Hormone replacement therapy patients
- Diet rich in fat but devoid of fibre
- Being older than 60 years
- Having cirrhosis
The signs and symptoms of gallstones
The most common symptom of a gallstone is a pain in the upper right abdominal area, which is sudden and intensifies quickly. This pain can last from just a few minutes to hours. People may also experience severe pain between the shoulder blades if they have gallstones. If you experience this pain every time you eat fried food or food rich in fats, you should get your gallbladder checked. Some of the most common symptoms of gallstones are listed here.
- Indigestion or other digestive problems such as heartburn
- Pain in shoulder or back
- Pain in stomach, above the ribs
- Yellowing of skin or jaundice
- Dark urine and clay-coloured stool
You need to immediately see a doctor when you experience any of these symptoms-
- Severe abdominal pain that lasts for hours
- Fever or chills
- Change in colour of urine and stool
These symptoms of gallstones show severe inflammation and require immediate attention.
How is gallstone diagnosed?
If these signs and symptoms persist for long, the doctors will conduct some diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of gallstones. These include an abdominal or endoscopic ultrasound, blood tests and imaging tests, including CT scan, HIDA test and MRCP.
In case there are no symptoms of gallstones, but the diagnostic tests show the presence of gallstones, no treatment is required. This condition is known as silent gallstones. Proper treatment is only required in case the person has the symptoms associated with the condition. The treatment for gallstones can be done through medication or surgery, which removes the gall bladder (cholecystectomy).
Untreated gallstones can cause infection of the bile duct or gall bladder. It can lead to the inflammation of the pancreas or a blood infection. In severe cases, it can cause gallbladder cancer which can be fatal if not treated properly.
The most common complication that may arise from gallstones is cholecystitis. This is a condition where the gallstones block the pathway from where the bile moves outside from the gallbladder. This leads to sudden pain in the upper belly or back which can last for some time. The infection caused as a result of this can have the following associated symptoms-
- Loss of appetite
- Fever and chills
- Shooting pain in the abdomen or back
This condition requires immediate medical attention. Seek help from a specialized doctor if you experience a sudden pain like this.
Being aware of the signs and symptoms of gallstones can help you seek treatment on time. If left untreated, gallstones can lead to inflammation and other severe complications. Maintaining a diet which is low in fat and rich in fibre can help prevent the formation of gallstones. Doing adequate physical exercise is also important to avoid this condition.
Source - Medium