Gallstones, known by its medical term cholelithiasis, is a condition of the gallbladder where hardened deposits (stones) develop within the digestive fluid of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small organ found under the liver on the right side of the body, which stores bile produced by the liver. After meals, the gallbladder transports bile, a yellowish-brown fluid, to the small intestine and helps the body break up and digest fatty foods.
No one really knows why bile crystalizes and forms gallstones in the gallbladder, but one thing is for sure they are present in about 20% of the American population. They usually occur after the age of 30, and their likelihood increases with age. Gallstones come in a variety of sizes sometimes as small as a grain as sand, other times as large as a golf ball. You could be diagnoses with just one, or multiple stones at the same time.
Gallstones are considered common in the US, and for those that experience symptoms from the stones surgical intervention to remove the small organ is the typical treatment. If you have gallstones that aren’t causing any issues or negative side effects – no treatment is probably necessary. Symptoms can occur according the size and placement of the stone within the gallbladder. If a stone gets stuck in one of the ducts that transports bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine, some of the following symptoms can occur:
· Sudden and rapidly increasing pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen
· Sudden and rapidly growing pain in the center of the abdomen, below the breastbone
· Back pain between the shoulder blades
· Pain in the right shoulder
Gallstone pain can last from a few minutes to a few hours, but if it goes away it might not be cause for concern. This being said, certain signs or symptoms should prompt you to see the doctor. Many of the above symptoms are worrisome but may not necessarily need immediate attention. So when is it urgent that you see a doctor? Below are some symptoms that should be checked as soon as possible:
· Intense, unbearable abdominal pain
· Yellowing skin and of the whites of the eyes
· High fever and chills
Gallstones are the most common risk factor for gallbladder cancer and the most common digestive disease in the United States. Between 75% and 90% of people with gallbladder cancer have a history of gallstones, which is another reason to pay attention to your body and to what it might be telling you through these simple signs and symptoms. As mentioned, the exact cause of gallstones is unclear, but there are certain things that the medical community hypothesizes is to blame.
· Too much cholesterol in the bile, which could cause it to form into crystals and eventually stones.
· Too much bilirubin in the bile, the chemical produced from red blood cell breakdown.
· Incomplete or infrequent emptying of the gallbladder, which concentrates bile and forms gallstones.
Interestingly, many lifestyle factors affect the risk of developing gallstones. The way you eat and take care of yourself is an overwhelming factor in the possibility of getting stones. Let’s take a look at some risk factors for getting gallstones which could be in your control:
· Being overweight or obese
· Eating a high-fat diet
· Eating a high-cholesterol diet
· Eating a low-fiber diet
· Having diabetes
· Losing weight very quickly
· Certain medications
And some risk factors you can’t control:
· Being female
· Being age 60 or older
· Being an American Indian
· Being a Mexican-American
· Being pregnant
· Having a family history of gallstones