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Understanding Gallstones And How To Effectively Deal With Them

Written by Dr. Pramod Mane on Wed, 16 November 2022

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Shooting stomach pain? Vomiting bouts? Frequent alkaline burps? There is every chance that you could have unknowingly developed a gall stone. Gallstones, a condition of the gallbladder, can bring about a lot of pain and discomfort. It is also possible that the pain can strike you out of nowhere. Read on to know more about the gallbladder and how gallstones can affect you!

What is the gall bladder?

There's a small swollen pea pod-like structure that sits snugly under the liver, stores, and concentrates bile for the digestion of fats in our body. This is our gallbladder and it appears green in colour due to the presence of bile in it. Before a meal, the gallbladder is filled with bile and might appear like a small pear. After a meal when bile is secreted, it deflates in size.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are small hard pebble-like nuisances that are composed of bile and cholesterol. These stones may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball! Gallstones may be formed in the gallbladder itself or they might develop in the cystic dust or at times even get carried away to the pancreas through the common duct. These ducts are like pipelines that carry bile and other digestive juices. When a stone forms and gets stuck in one of these ducts it leads to blockage of the duct. This can lead to pain and malfunction of the digestive system.

What causes gallstones?

  • Gallstones are usually caused when there is an imbalance in the chemical composition of bile in the gallbladder. Sometimes, the level of cholesterol in the bile shoots up so much that the bile is unable to dissolve it. This results in the formation of the most common type of gallstones.
  • Having too much bilirubin in your bile can lead to the formation of pigment gallstones. Bilirubin is the orange-yellow pigment formed in the liver by the breakdown of hemoglobin and excreted in bile. During conditions like liver cirrhosis or blood-related diseases, excess bilirubin can be produced. This causes an imbalance in bile composition and thus results in the formation of gallstones.
  • Sometimes the bile is not excreted completely from the gallbladder; this can lead to the concentration of the bile in the gallbladder. Concentrated bile salts are susceptible to the formation of stones.
  • Gallstones can also form during the pregnancy or in a person who lost a lot of weight rapidly.

What are the signs of gallbladder problems?

Symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen.
  • Having a high body temperature.
  • Change in the colour of urine to brown.
  • Pain in the centre of your abdomen, just below your breastbone.
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes - Jaundice.
  • Clay-coloured stools.
  • Indigestion, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, burping- these symptoms are also known as biliary colic.

What to expect?

If you have a gallstone, you might experience certain symptoms which might not be taken seriously. Paying attention to these symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and starting immediate treatment.

  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting: This is due to indigestioncaused because of less secretion of bile.
  • Stomach pain: The pain experienced is not usually caused by the gallstone, but because of the blockage of the bile duct which obstructs the flow of bile.
  • Burping: One may experience alkaline burps which are a result of the imbalance of bile secretion in the gut.
  • Diarrhoea: One might experience frequent diarrhoea due to all indigestion caused in the stomach.

What to say to your doctor

Upon experiencing the above symptoms, most people consider it might be because they ate too much or because the food was too spicy, etc. But when these symptoms keep arising every day it's a sign to see your doctor. When at the doctor's, it is essential to share all the symptoms that you have experienced for the past few weeks. With all the symptoms disclosed and tests conducted the doctor can make a diagnosis and discuss options for treatment of the same.

How to treat gallstones?

In many cases, gallstones are passed without even noticing. One will need gallbladder stone treatment only if pain or other symptoms mentioned above arise and persist.

Medications used to be prescribed earlier, but now with advancements in technology, doctors recommend surgery. Laparoscopic gallbladder removal is a minimally invasive surgery in which small incisions and specialized tools are used to remove a diseased or inflamed gallbladder. General anaesthesia is used during the surgery. There are usually no complications and the patient can go home on the same day.

Can gallstones go away without surgery?

Non-invasive treatments include:

  • Natural bile acids such as ursodeoxycholic acids are prescribed for dissolving cholesterol gallstones, this can lead to the stones reducing in size and being passed naturally.
  • Shock wave lithotripsy is a procedure that uses shock waves to break stones in the gallbladder or the gall duct.
  • Endoscopic transpapillary treatment is a procedure in which a camera is inserted into the body through the oral route, this camera is attached to a coiled wire which is used to drain the bile out. This leads to the normal functioning of the gallbladder.

Who are at risk?

Gallstones are seen more often in the following cases:

  • Female
  • Overweight or obese
  • Above 40 years of age
  • Pregnant
  • Having cirrhosis of the liver
  • Having diabetes
  • Taking medication for cholesterol, birth control, or weight loss
  • Taking hormonal injections like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc
  • Having a poor lifestyle
  • Has lost a lot of weight in very little time
  • Having a diet with high fat/cholesterol content
  • Having a family history of gallstones or liver disease

How to prevent gallstones?

Gallstones can be prevented by taking certain measures:

  • Eating mindfully: Gallstones are formed when cholesterol levels in the body are high. Individuals with high levels of bad cholesterol are more susceptible to gallstones. Avoiding saturated fats which increase bad cholesterol in our bodies is important. Instead, we can include good fats in our diets like omega 3 fatty acids. Avocados, olive oil, fish, nuts, and seeds are sources of good fats. Eating mindfully is the key to a balanced life.
  • Exercising: Studies have shown that exercising regularly might reduce your chances of getting gallstones irrespective of your BMI. This is a great reason to start exercising and getting involved in fitness.
  • Weight management: It has been found that losing weight rapidly in a short interval of time through surgical procedures or crash diets is linked to the development of gallstones. To live a healthy life, eating right and exercising are essential. Slow and gradual weight loss is optimum progress. Thus avoiding rapid weight gain and weight loss is essential for avoiding gallstones and other health issues.

Gallstones are painful, but they can be dealt with. Most people tend to live a normal life even after the surgery. A healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding unnecessary medications, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can prove to be a boon for your body in the fight against gallstones.

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Dr. Pramod Mane

A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Pharmacology., currently based in Mumbai, India, Dr Pramod Mane, comes with an experience of more than 20 years of working in Medical Affairs in the Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceutical Industry. Director of Medical Services at Mega Lifesciences since 2008, Dr Mane has been associated with several MNCS in the areas of Medical Affairs, Medical Services, Medico-marketing, Pharmacovigilance & Clinical trials in his illustrious career.

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