Do you find yourself wincing in pain after a meal or when lying down on your right side? You could be experiencing symptoms of gallstones, one of the most common ailments affecting millions of Americans every year. Although this condition can initially seem scary, there's no need to panic! In this blog post, we'll cover what gallstones are, how they form, and how they're treated so that you can make informed decisions about your health.
What are gallstones, and what do they look like?
Gallstones are hardened deposits of chloride, calcium, and bilirubin that can form in the gallbladder. They often range from the size of a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball and often appear as individual stones or in clusters.
There are two types: Cholesterol stones which look white or yellow-green, and Pigment stones, which appear dark-colored.
How do they form?
Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that form in one's gallbladder. Various factors can contribute to gallstone formation, including weight loss, rapid weight gain, pregnancy, oral contraceptives, high-fat diets, and genetic predisposition.
When an imbalance occurs in the cholesterol-bile acid relationship within the bile that is stored in the gallbladder, cholesterol concentrates and forms crystals shortly afterward. When these crystals become too large, they harden into gallstones which need medical intervention to be removed or broken down completely.
If left untreated, complications such as chronic pain, pancreatitis, and jaundice can occur. Understanding how gallstones develop is key to the prevention and treatment options available.
What are the symptoms of gallstones?
Symptoms of gallstones include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and jaundice. Not only do gallstones cause considerable discomfort, but they can also block important bile ducts in the body if left untreated. Therefore it's important to consult with a medical professional if you are experiencing any of these gallstone-related symptoms.
How are gallstones treated and removed?
Gallstone treatment and removal can vary depending on the severity of an individual’s gallstones. In mild cases, doctors may advise patients to adjust their diets and make changes to ensure their bodies process fatty foods more efficiently. Medications such as bile acid agents, cholesterol-absorbing drugs, or medications that dissolve gallstones may also be prescribed.
Surgery is often recommended for more serious gallstone cases. This involves removing the gallbladder or stones as well as any surrounding tissue if necessary. Removing the gallbladder can be done in several ways, typically using a minimally invasive procedure such as Laparoscopy with cameras and small surgical tools inserted through tiny incisions to make it easier for the medical team to access the area and remove the obstruction. Another possible procedure is Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a procedure to locate stones. It is often used in conjunction with surgical removal of the gallbladder to provide a faster recovery rate.
Diet changes and medical care should always be consulted when addressing gallstone issues, regardless of the treatment used.
What is the long-term outlook for someone with gallstones?
The long-term outlook for someone with gallstones is generally positive, as most people do not experience any problems or further issues. However, these patients should be aware of potential risks, such as developing biliary colic and complications like infection or stones blocking critical areas.
Additionally, the formation of more stones or sludge over time can lead to symptoms that could potentially require medical intervention if left unchecked. Although it may require patients to take additional steps in order to manage their condition properly, a healthy diet and lifestyle choices help minimize the long-term health impacts of gallstones.
Can you prevent gallstones from forming in the first place?
Prevention is always a better option than cure, and gallstones are no exception. While it can be difficult to definitively prevent gallstones from occurring, certain lifestyle steps may help. Diet plays a major role in gallstone formation as diets high in fat or cholesterol can increase the chances of them occurring substantially. Being at an ideal weight for age and gender can also reduce the risk of gallstones forming.
Exercise can make a positive difference, too; even relatively light exercise for thirty minutes five days a week has been proven to reduce the likelihood of developing them by around twenty percent. While these precautionary strategies may not stop stones from forming altogether, they certainly give someone their best fighting chance against them and should not be neglected.
Find Help for Gallstones and other Gallbladder Issues at Digestive Health Partners
We encourage you to contact us and set up an appointment to help diagnose and help you find the best treatment plan for managing your gut health.