7 Important Facts about Gallstones

Do you really need to know more about gallstones?

Consider this: over 20 million Americans have gallstones. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 800,000 of these patients are hospitalized and about 500,000 end up in surgery every year. Approximately 10,000 of them die of the disease and 7,000 more die from its complications annually.

So do you still think you know enough about gallstones?

If not, here’s a brief run-down of the key facts on gallstones. Next few minutes spent reading this article might help you protect yourself against them.

1. Gallstones are Stones in the Bile.
Gallstones, as the name implies, are lumps of rock-like material in the gall or bile. Bile is a watery liquid that is produced by the liver. It flows out through ducts that either lead to the intestines where it helps digest food or to the gallbladder below the liver where it’s stored. The gallbladder contracts during meal to release bile that will aid in digestion. Gallstones develop anywhere there is bile – in the ducts but most commonly, in the gall bladder.

2. Gallstones are frequently formed from Excess Fats.
Most gallstones are formed when there is too much cholesterol in the bile and the bile can’t dissolve it. The cholesterol then lumps together and solidifies to form a stone.

Also, sometimes the gallbladder can’t contract frequent enough so the bile remains longer in the gallbladder giving more time for the cholesterol particles to accumulate.

In some instances, excessive bilirubin in the bile combines with calcium to form gallstones. Bilirubin is the waste product of old red blood cells.

3. Gallstone Formation Has Risk Factors.
Studies show that you’re more predisposed to gallstones if you have first degree relatives that had gallstones. Although gallstones can happen to both genders, they are more common in women. Overweight individuals as well as those who engage in rapid weight loss also increase their risk.

4. Gallstones are Silent and Sneaky.
Patients may not show any symptoms until about five years when the gallstone is big enough to obstruct the gallbladder. Thus, gallstones are often discovered accidentally, say during surgery for another condition.

If symptoms do show, the most common manifestation is biliary colic. This is a sudden pain that intensifies over a few minutes. It’s often felt in the right upper abdomen or just below the ribs and lasts about 15 minutes ~ 5 hours. Biliary colic is usually severe and recurrent. Other symptoms include abdominal distention, discomfort during eating, frequent passing of gas, and if severe, yellowish skin and white of eyes.

5. Gallstone Treatment Depends on the Size of the Stone.
The removal of the gallbladder is the standard treatment for gallstones. Gallstones can also be surgically extracted or shattered by shockwaves. However, if the gallstones are less than 1.5 cm in diameter and are mostly composed of cholesterol, they can be dissolved through oral medication.

6. Gallstones Can Develop into Severe Complications that May Be Fatal.
If untreated, gallstones can lead to:

• Cholecystitis (infection of the gall bladder). This can cause the rupture of the gall bladder that will spread the infection to other parts of the abdomen including the liver, stomach, and the intestines.

• Sepsis (blood poisoning). Bacteria from the gallbladder infection may enter the blood stream. This can lead to death.

• Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). This is usually mild but also can get serious and fatal.

• Fistula (abnormal opening created by the erosion of the gallbladder wall). This will cause bile to leak into other body organs.

• Ileus (blockage of the flow of food, gas, and liquid in the small intestine).

• Cancer of the gallbladder

7. Gallstones Can’t Be Prevented But the Risks Can Be Reduced.
Preventive measures include:

• maintaining healthy weight

• losing weight slowly if you need to

• avoiding caffeine

• eating foods with more fiber

• not skipping meals

• exercising regularly

Also, be doubly cautious if you’re taking estrogen therapy or high dose birth control pills as they are linked to gallstone symptoms.

It is also a must to see the doctor if you have the above-mentioned gallstone symptoms.

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