Essential Facts About Gallstones – Things you should know
- Formation of gallstones
- Risk Factors for Gallstone Formation
- The 4 Prominent reasons for the Gallstone’s formation
- How does the pain due to gallstones feel like
- What is Biliary Colic?
- Complications of Gallstones
Gallstones are formed in the gall (bile) within the gallbladder
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that sits below the liver. The liver produces bile. The gallbladder stores it and releases it into the stomach to help digestion.
The gallbladder concentrates the bile by removing water (absorption of water) and then releases it into the intestine for digestion. Concentrated bile is effective for digestion.
Bile helps in digesting fats and removing toxic substances from the body.
Facts about Gallstones in a Nutshell
In most cases, gallstones are cholesterol crystals. They form in people who have excess cholesterol. The much-researched topic nowadays is how microscopic cholesterol crystals turn into stones.
Gallstones are common in women and obese individuals, but males also develop gallstones.
Gallbladder stones can form at any age but are usually seen in young and middle-aged people.
Composition of gallstones: cholesterol, bile pigments, bile salts, and very rarely calcium as well.
What are the risk factors for gallbladder stones?
The following are the risk factors for gallstone formation:
- Rapid weight loss
- Prolonged fasting
- Excess body weight
- Being woman
- Use of birth control pills
- Hormone therapy
Why liver secrete cholesterol into the bile?
The liver secretes cholesterol into the bile to get rid of excess cholesterol from the body.
Formation of gallstones
Most of the gallstones have cholesterol as their primary ingredient. Cholesterol gallstones are the most common ones. The liver secretes cholesterol into the bile. The liver also secretes bile acids and lecithin (two detergents) which help fatty cholesterol dissolve in aqueous (watery) bile.
One of the common explanations regarding the formation of cholesterol gallstones is this:
The liver secretes both cholesterol and detergents, such as bile acids and lecithin. There could be two possibilities: The liver may secrete excess cholesterol compared to the amount of lecithin and bile acids it secretes. Due to this reason, some of the cholesterol may remain undissolved. The other possibility – the liver may not secrete enough lecithin and bile acids, and therefore, some of the cholesterol may remain undissolved. In either case, excess undissolved cholesterol leads to the formation of gallbladder stones.
This type of gallstones is more common in Southeast Asian people compared to those living in America and Europe. Brown pigment and black pigment gallstones are formed from bilirubin (a chemical released by the liver after the destruction of old red blood cells).
The other possibilities…
Rapid formation: In some individuals, gallstones form rapidly even in the presence of a balanced concentration of cholesterol, lecithin, and bile acids.
Inefficient contraction and emptying of the gallbladder: Bile may stay longer in the gallbladder due to reduced contraction and emptying of the gallbladder. It provides ample time for cholesterol to stick, crystallize, and form gallstones.
Excess cholesterol, excess body weight, a sedentary lifestyle, genetic predisposition, and eating an unhealthy and fatty diet are the other risk factors.
The 4 prominent reasons for gallstone formation
- High cholesterol
- Excess Bilirubin (the body produces it by the breakdown of red blood cells)
- Excess bile acids and lecithin
- Decreased gallbladder emptying capacity
Let us try to understand how the pain due to gallstones feels like.
Silent Gallstones: Many people don’t have any signs and symptoms of gallstones. Detection of gallstones in them is often a chance event.
It happens when X-rays or ultrasounds are performed to evaluate medical conditions other than gallstones.
Symptoms can manifest after several years, and then continue to bother until they become worse.
Biliary colic is a very specific type of pain. It is associated with the obstruction of cystic, hepatic, or common bile ducts. The pain comes on suddenly and rapidly intensifies within a few minutes.
This type of pain is constant lasting for around 15 minutes to 4 to 5 hours. If the pain lasts for longer, then it is an indication of complication. The pain is felt in the middle of the upper abdomen and is associated with nausea.
Biliary colic is a recurring symptom.
Episodes of biliary colic often occur during the night.
Painful episodes tend to remain frequent in some, while in others they are infrequent.
Pain usually strikes the upper right of the abdomen below the rib cage. It can be intermittent (comes and goes) lasting for a few minutes to hours.
Some people feel pain in the upper-middle abdomen.
Large stones can lead to infection and cause severe pain.
Pain can also move to the back and shoulder blades.
Most often a fatty meal triggers pain.
Sometimes the pain and other symptoms look similar to GERD or heartburn symptoms.
People often take antacids to eliminate heartburn, but it will not help ease the symptoms.
Symptoms often associated with a problematic gallbladder
Recurrent and worsening pain often indicates a serious problem – one should never ignore it and take action immediately (consult a doctor – gastroenterologist).
Complications of Gallbladder stones
Gallstones can move from the gallbladder and get stuck in the cystic or common bile duct causing complications.
Cholecystitis: This condition is associated with severe abdominal pain and fever. It occurs when a gallstone gets stuck at the neck of the gallbladder and causes inflammation.
Blockage of the common bile duct: It can cause bile duct infection, jaundice, and severe pain.
Pancreatitis: A gallstone can dislodge from its place and obstruct the pancreatic duct that opens into the common bile duct. This condition can lead to pancreatitis – an inflammation of the pancreas. It causes constant and intense abdominal pain.
Stay Tuned to Learn more about gallstones
FAQs about Gallstones
- Why do gallstones often go unnoticed for years?
- Eating a fatty diet and gallstone formation – What is the Link?
- Sleeping late at night – does it have any impact?
- I don’t want surgery for Gallstones – What should I do
- What research studies say about the removal of the gallbladder
- Do medicines work to dissolve gallstones?
- Can gallstones alone be removed saving the gallbladder?
- If gallbladder is removed what are the side effects? Does it affect my health and digestion?
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