Cholelithiasis refers to gallstone formation. These gallstones are hard deposits made up of cholesterol, calcium salts, and bile pigments. These can inhibit the flow of bile and, at the same time, cause for the gallbladder to become swollen. The swelling can lead to pain, infection, and inflammation. It's very common in the United States, particularly for women who are over 40 years old.
Types of Gallstones
• Cholesterol Stone
The most common type of gallstones formed is the cholesterol stone, which results from too much cholesterol in the bile. Cholesterol is a fat (lipid) which is produced by the liver and is crucial for normal body functioning.
• Pigment Stone
Another type is called the pigment stone, which is due to excessive bilirubin, the waste product of red blood cell breakdown in the live.
Signs and Symptoms
Unfortunately, signs and symptoms of this condition do not take place until the gallstones are already blocking the biliary system. These would include:
- abdominal pain usually in the upper right of the abdomen
- back pain between the shoulder blades
- pain in the right shoulder
It's imperative to see the doctor if:
- if the abdominal pain is so intense that you can't sit still anymore
- if you have high fever with chills
- if you notice yellowing of the skin and the white parts of the eyes (jaundice)
To determine if you have cholelithiasis, you would need to undergo:
- ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography)
- CT (Computer Tomography) Scan
- Abdominal Ultrasound
- Blood Tests
ERCP is a test that checks the bile ducts for gallstones through the combined use of x-rays and an Endoscope (slender, tubular optical instrument).
• CT Scan
CT Scan combines a series of multiple-angle X-ray views to produce cross-sectional images of your body. Each of these images can be analyzed individually or they can be combined to make 3-D images, providing much more information than plain x-rays.
• Abdominal Ultrasound
Ultrasound machine uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of internal organs. Unlike with x-rays or CT scans, there is no risk of ionizing radiation exposure with this test.
Cholecystogram produces a radiographic image of the gallbladder through the combined use of a contrast dye (patient swallows it) and x-rays for better visualization of gallbladder.
• Blood Tests
Blood tests can find infection, jaundice or other complications that are due to gallstones.
Up to now, the direct cause of gallstone formation is not yet determined. But it is believed by many medical experts that gallstones may develop if the bile stored in and released from the gallbladder contains too much bilirubin or cholesterol.
Still another possible cause for gallstones to form is the gallbladder not functioning properly and not able to release the bile.
Factors that increase the risk of gallstone formation include the following:
- Gender: Risk is higher for females than males.
- Age: People 60 and older are more prone to this condition than younger people.
- Race: American Indians and Mexicans have higher risk of gallstone formation.
- Diet: Diet that is low in fiber but high in fat and cholesterol makes you more prone to gallstone formation.
- Family history
- Quick Weight Loss
- Cholesterol Medications
- Hormone Therapy Drugs
Treatment options for gallstone include:
- Gallstone-Dissolving Medications
This is a surgical procedure that removes the gallbladder. Gallbladder removal will not affect digestive abilities of the body but can cause temporary diarrhea.
• Gallstone-Dissolving Medications
Oral medications may also be prescribed to dissolve the gallstones over months or years.
Prevent formation of gallstones by not skipping meals. If you're undergoing a weight loss program, be sure to lose weight gradually, about one to two pounds a week only. It's also imperative to maintain healthy weight since obesity is a risk factor for gallstone formation. Achieve proper weight through healthy diet and regular exercise.