What are Gallstones and are They Harmful?

If you have a sudden pain in your stomach, it may be because of gallstone, sudden lumps or stones that form in your bile duct or gallbladder. Certain chemicals in the gallbladder, like calcium, cholesterol, calcium carbonate and bilirubinate, can harden and turn into small or even large stones. Confused? Lets first look at what a gallbladder is and what function it serves in our body.

What is a Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small organ on the right-hand side of the body and under the liver. It stores the bile, or gall, that comes from the liver. This liquid enters the small intestines via bile ducts or narrow tubes, and this facilitates the digestion of fats. This may sound important, but the gallbladder is actually not essential, and healthy individuals will have no negative side effects in having it removed.


What are Gallstones?

Gallstones look kind of like crystals that appear in the gallbladder. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, and they can be hard or soft. You may get just one, or you may get several. They usually aren’t noticeable unless you happen to catch them on an ultrasound you’re getting for something else, but if left untreated, they can block the bile duct and cause serious complications.

The primary symptoms of gallstones are abdominal pain accompanied by nausea, fever and indigestion. This usually occurs an hour or so after you eat a large meal, or even in the middle of the night.


Types of Gallstones

There are two types of gallstones:

Pigment Gallstones:  These types of gallstones usually form when the bile has excessive bilirubin. They are common among patients with liver diseases, blood disorders and infected bile tubes.

Cholesterol Gallstones: Too much cholesterol in the bile results in the formation of this type of gallstone.


What are the Causes and Risks of Gallstones?

We’re not really sure what causes gallstones, but scientific theories point to a chemical imbalance. The condition is particular common to people who are overweight, particularly women. Studies show that a protruding stomach nearly doubles the chance of a woman developing gallstones to the point of needing surgical interference. Other risk factors include:


  • Genetics or family history
  • Gender (women are more susceptible)
  • High consumption of dietary fat
  • Women who undergo high-dose estrogen therapy
  • People who have recently lost a lot of weight, or quickly gained it
  • Women taking some oral contraceptives
  • Women who are pregnant
  • People over 60 years old
  • Those who take statins
  • People with diabetes
  • People who are inactive


What are the Treatments for Gallstones?

Gallstones are usually only diagnosed and treated once they’re causing serious inflammation in the gallbladder, blocking the bile duct or causing the bile to move into the intestines Usually, a patient is put on a low-fat diet. Other solutions include:

Cholecystectomy. A surgical removal of the gallbladder is usually performed with keyhole surgery.

Ursodeoxycholic Acid. Cholesterol gallstones can be treated this way, though it may take up to 24 months.

Lithotripsy. In this method, the gallstones are shot with ultrasonic shock waves to break them up.


Well, now you know what gallstones are. If you find yourself experiencing sudden stomach pain, talk to your doctor. When the condition gets serious, they may recommend the organ be removed, which is okay. Your comfort and health is more important!


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