What Are Gallbladder Stones?
Gallbladder stones, also known as gallstones, are a deposition of hardened fluids found in the gallbladder. It is a gallbladder disease. The gallbladder is a tiny, greenish organ that is found just below the liver. Its main function is to store the bile enzyme that the liver produces. However, the fluids present inside this organ might undergo crystallization and deposition. When this happens, it leads to painful gallstones.
A common misconception about gallstones is that they are stones. In reality, they are crystallized molecules of the fluids found in the liver. In fact, they might be present in most of our gallbladders, but we will not realize their presence until they block the common bile duct that joins the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine. This is when the pain begins.
These “stones” can have different sizes. Some of them are just a little grain while others could be as large as a plum. It is possible to have multiple gallstones at the same time.
How Common Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are a very common worldwide problem. Their risk increases after 60 years, though they can be found in people of any age, even children. This problem is more common in women and people who are overweight.
The actual number of people suffering from gallstones is very large compared to the number of people who are diagnosed. It is estimated that only 10% of the people who have gallstones develop any kind of symptoms which necessitate them to undergo tests for detection.
What Causes Gallstones?
The gallbladder is the storehouse for bile, a digestive enzyme secreted by the liver. This bile is discharged by the gallbladder into the small intestine whenever there is a digestive requirement. However, if the gallbladder is unable to empty the bile completely, then it may stay back in the organ, and this can cause gallstones.
Gallstones can also be caused due to the presence of a substance known as bilirubin. Bilirubin is a vital chemical, again produced in the liver, which is necessary to eliminate old red blood cells. However, in some cases, the liver produces excess bilirubin, such as in the case of diseases such as liver cirrhosis. When this happens, the excess bilirubin might convert into solidified material and become gallstones.
The possibility of gallstones increases severely if there is an over-secretion of cholesterol in the person’s system. In normal conditions, bile metabolizes cholesterol. But if there is too much of it, the cholesterol may remain in the gallbladder and cause stones.
Cholesterol is, in fact, the leading cause for gallstones. About 8 in 10 cases have gallstones due to the presence of cholesterol, while only 2 cases account for gallstones due to bile or related pigments.
Who Is at Greater Risk for Gallstones?
There are several risk factors for gallstones.
- Excess Body Weight – People who are overweight or obese have a high density of cholesterol in their bodies. This does not get digested properly and might accumulate in the gallstone leading to stones.
- High Calorie Diet – People who have a high calorie diet are directly introducing more cholesterol in their bodies.
- High Fiber Diet – A high fiber diet needs the body to produce more digestive enzymes. This increases the production of bile.
- Rapid Weight Loss – Rapid weight loss is brought about by enhancing the production of digestive enzymes such as bile. The level of bile increases.
- Diabetes Mellitus – Persons who have high blood sugar are more prone to develop gallstones.
- Pregnancy – In pregnant women, the change of hormones also brings about a change in the level of digestive enzymes. This makes pregnancy a risk factor for gallstones.
- Age – People who have crossed the age of 60 years have a higher chance of developing gallstones than younger people.
- Genetic Factors – Gallstones are known to have a genetic vulnerability. People who have a family history of gallstones might get them too.
- Certain Diseases – People who suffer from certain diseases, such as liver cirrhosis, stand a higher chance of gallstones. Cirrhosis increases the production of bile, which then crystallizes into gallstones.
What Are the Symptoms of Gallstones?
Most people who develop gallstones do not show any symptoms at all. This is why diagnosis of this gallbladder disease is not so easy.
The following are the symptoms that might develop in a few people:-
- Pain – The gallbladder pain is usually observed in the region of the abdomen where the gallbladder and liver are present. This pain may develop and radiate into other nearby regions of the body such as the right arm, the right shoulder, the right shoulder blade, or even the entire back region.
- Fever – Fevers may arise in some cases.
- Jaundice – Gallstones sufferers might develop the condition of jaundice. This is characterized by yellowing of various parts of the body such as the eyes and the skin.
- Vomiting – Vomiting, or at least nausea, are commonly experienced by those who have gallstones.
- Stools – Since bilirubin is usually lacking in the stools of gallstone sufferers, they have typical stools which are clay colored.
How Are Gallstones Diagnosed and Treated?
The presence of gallstones is confirmed by various tests. The tests that might be recommended by doctors include an ultrasound, an abdominal CT scan, a gallbladder radionuclide scan, and several pathological blood tests. With these tests, not only the presence of gallstones, but their number and size and other characteristics are also ascertained.
The treatment is first attempted with medication if there are no significant symptoms. Certain drugs can dissolve gallstones which can then be removed via the digestive system.
If medication does not work, then surgical methods are used. By means of a process known as laparoscopy, the gallbladder can be entirely removed. Removing the gallbladder does not harm the body as the body has alternative ways to accomplish its task. It is also possible to remove the stones by making incisions in the gallbladder. This is done if the stones are small enough to be removed in this manner.