What are gallstones?
Solid particles that develop in the gallbladder are gallstones. They form from the bilirubin and bile cholesterol. The size of a gallstone can vary from tiny as the grains of sand to the size of a golf ball. Small stones are often the cause of troubles. The symptoms of gallstones are partly dependant on their size and their number. Gallstones are quite common for people over 40 years of age but most don’t notice them because of the lack of symptoms. In such cases, no treatments are required. There are two types of gallstones, pigment stones, and cholesterol stones. When there is an excessive amount of bilirubin in the bile, pigment stones are formed. An excess amount of cholesterol in the bile causes cholesterol stones.
Where do gallstones develop?
Gallstones are most commonly found in the gallbladder as cholesterol stones. The gallbladder is a sacklike pear-shaped organ located under the liver and in the upper part of the abdomen. It is responsible for storing and dispensing bile (the fluid that helps to digest the fats present in the foods). A series of ducts and tunnels connect the gallbladder to other parts of the digestive system. The ducts aid in carrying bile and the process of breaking food down. Bile is comprised of cholesterol, bile salts, bilirubin, and lecithin.
Why do gallstones develop?
Gallstones can develop due to the reasons listed below:
- The presence of a critical concentration of bilirubin and cholesterol in the bile
- Gallbladder lacking the ability to empty itself of bile
- Other conditions like blood disorder and liver cirrhosis
- Substances present in the bile also promotes the formation of gallstones
The risk factors involved in the formation of gallstones are:
- Eating a high-fat diet
- Eating a high-cholesterol diet
- Eating a low-fiber diet
- Having a family history of gallstones
- Having diabetes
- Having certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia or leukemia
- Rapid weight loss due to crash diet
- Being overweight
- Taking medications that contain estrogen, such as oral contraceptives or hormone therapy drugs
What are the symptoms of gallstones?
The symptoms of gallstones are based on their size. There are usually no symptoms of gallstones and most people are usually unaware that they have gallstones. For such silent gallstones, no treatment is required. The most common symptom includes pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. Such pain is referred to as an “attack” since they come in episodes. Attacks can be seen every few days, weeks, and months. Other symptoms of gallstones would include:
- Associated pain in the right shoulder
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the chest
- Jaundice (a yellowish tint of the skin or eyes)
Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen can last for one to several hours. The warning signs would include persistent pain, fever, and jaundice.
When to seek medical care for gallstones?
When a person is experiencing attacks within 30 minutes of having a meal, schedule a medical consultation with Dr. Rathna Kumar Yallapragada, MD. Schedule an appointment at Curewell Medical Centre when you are experiencing any of the following conditions along with abdominal pain and over-the-counter medications that are not reducing the pain.
- Jaundice - Yellow-tinted skin, or jaundice, may be a sign of a block or stone in the common bile duct. The common bile duct is the channel that leads from the gallbladder to the small intestine.
- Fever, vomiting, and chills - Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of all types of gallbladder problems. However, only chronic gallbladder disease may cause digestive problems, such as acid reflux and gas. Chills or an unexplained fever may signal that you have an infection. If you have an infection, you need treatment before it worsens and becomes dangerous. The infection can become life-threatening if it spreads to other parts of the body.
What are the complications of gallstones?
The complications of gallstones would include inflammation of the gallbladder, pancreas, or bile duct and hindrance of the bowel. Very large gallstones would increase the risk for gallbladder cancer and bile duct cancer.
Cholecystitis: Inflammation of the gallbladder
When the gallstones prevent bile from discharging properly, the gallbladder can become inflamed. The fluid builds up and causes stretch on the gallbladder wall thereby irritating the lining of the wall. Bacteria can start to grow on the irritated lining of the gallbladder. An acute inflammation would be accompanied by severe pain in the right abdomen along with fever and chills. Such acute inflammation would lead to further complications if left untreated. The organ can die due to inflammation and the complications can spread onto other organs as well. If the inflammation spreads into the entire body and blood it is called septicemia which needs immediate treatment.
Cholangitis: Inflammation of the bile duct
Inflammation of the bile duct also leads to severe pain in the upper right part of the abdomen, chills, fever, and sometimes jaundice. Similar to inflammation of the gall bladder, it can transmit to other organs leading to some severe complications.
Pancreatitis: inflammation of the pancreas
Pancreatitis is a serious disease caused by bile duct stones. It not only leads to abdominal pain but also fever, nausea, and vomiting. A common duct is shared by the gallbladder and pancreas. When a stone blocks the outflow of bile from the gallbladder, it might also block the flow of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. This can lead to the destruction of the pancreas which if not treated correctly and at the right time, can be life-threatening.
With the right treatment, full recovery is possible. Schedule a medical consultation with Curewell Medical Center, and get a checkup done. We have the state-of-the-art infrastructure in place, to diagnose the issue at our onsite labs, and recommend you a personalized treatment plan to seamlessly manage the issue in your day-to-day life. Our board-certified in-house physician, Dr. Rathna Kumar Yallapragada, MD, an internal medicine specialist with more than 20 years of experience in primary care of adults and adolescents over the age of 13 years old, will dedicatedly examine and oversee the management of the health issue right from its early detection to its cure.
Quality, Life-Changing care from the comfort of your home.