Many people take the function of the gallbladder for granted. That being said, people recognize the gallbladde as soon as gallstones appear. Thse are hardened stones of digestive fluid that start in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is one of the smaller organs. It's pear shaped and is located on the right side of the body by the liver. The main function of your gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile, a yellow-brown digestive fluid produced by your liver.
Some people develop just one large stone, while others develop many smaller stones. Gallstones are more common in women than men and tend to develop after age 30. Gallstones can be quite painful and uncomfortable. The pain usually comes on suddenly and can last several hours. The pain is often felt in the upper right side of your abdomen, just under your ribs. You might also feel pain in your right shoulder or back. The pain can be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.
Causes of Gallstones
Gallstones can be caused by quite a few different things. Some of the common causes of gallstones include:
- Obesity - Obesity is also a risk factor for gallstones, as excess weight increases the amount of cholesterol in the bile.
- Diets high in fat and cholesterol - Diet is thought to be the most important factor in developing gallstones. Diets high in fat and cholesterol encourage the production of cholesterol by the liver, which can then crystallize and form stones.
- Rapid weight loss - Rapid weight loss can cause the body to release more cholesterol into the bile, leading to gallstone formation.
- Pregnancy - Pregnancy can also increase the risk of gallstones due to the increased levels of hormones and changes in diet that occur during pregnancy. Increased levels in pregnant women can cause an increase in cholesterol levels in bile.
- Certain medical conditions and Medications - Certain medical conditions - such as Crohn's disease and diabetes - can cause changes in bile composition that increase the risk of stones forming. Certain medications can also contribute to gallstone formation by affecting bile composition.
Signs and Symptoms of Gallstones
Not everyone can be sure that they are suffering from gallstones until the symptoms begin to arise. People should look out for:
- Pain in the Abdomen or Back - Gallstones can cause a dull ache or sharp pain in the upper right of your abdomen or back. The pain may come and go, but it tends to be more severe after eating a fatty meal.
- Nausea or Vomiting - If you have gallstones, you may experience nausea or vomiting. This is because the stones can block the bile duct and cause an increase in stomach acids.
- Indigestion - Gallstones can also cause indigestion, interfering with normal digestion. This may cause bloating, belching, and abdominal discomfort after eating.
- Clay-colored Stools - If you have gallstones, you may notice that your stools are clay-colored. This happens because the stones can block the bile duct and prevent the release of bile into the intestine, which gives stools their normal coloration.
- Fever - In some cases, gallstones can also lead to fever due to infection or inflammation. If you experience a fever along with any other symptoms of gallstones, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible for treatment.
There are two main types of treatment for gallstones: medical and surgical. Medical therapy involves the use of drugs to dissolve stones. This approach is often used for people who are not good candidates for surgery or who have small stones that are not causing serious symptoms.
Surgical therapy involves removing the gallbladder through a small incision in the abdomen. This is the most common treatment for gallstones and is usually successful in relieving symptoms. Gallstone surgery generally has a very high success rate and is considered safe. Complications from gallstone surgery are rare but can include bleeding, infection, and damage to nearby organs. Ultimately, the choice of treatment depends on various factors, including the size and number of stones, the severity of symptoms, and the individual's overall health.