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Gallstones: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ in the abdomen of the body. It is located on the right side of the abdomen just below the liver. The gallbladder stores in it a digestive fluid called bile. When we eat, the gallbladder releases the bile into the small intestine. Gallstones are small stones that are formed in the gallbladder. They are hardened deposits of digestive fluid. They are generally small in size and vary from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a squash ball. People, in general, develop only one gallstone but others may develop more than one at the same time. In most cases, gallstones do not show any signs or cause any symptoms. Also, they do not need any treatment most of the time. However, if they recur, it may be treated with medications or with a surgery in which the gallbladder is removed from the human body. A human can stay alive without the gallbladder without affecting the digestive abilities. However, there may be a risk of temporary diarrhea. Those people who cannot undergo surgery, they are given medications to dissolve the gallstones. There are many types of gallstones. They are:

Types of Gallstones

  • Pigment Gallstones When the bile contains too much bilirubin, the stones are formed which are black and dark brown.
  • Cholesterol Gallstones It is the most common type of gallstone. It is yellow. They are mainly made up of undissolved cholesterol. However, it may contain other components too.

Causes of Gallstones

Doctors are not sure as to what causes gallstones to form. But they do think that gallstones may be caused due to the following:

  • The bile contains a lot of bilirubin When the human body breaks down red blood cells (RBCs) there is a chemical produced that is called bilirubin. The excess bilirubin is said to be a cause of gallstone formation. Some conditions may cause the liver of the body to make too much bilirubin. This includes liver cirrhosis, biliary tract infections, and some blood disorders.
  • The gallbladder fails to empty correctly The gallbladder stores a digestive fluid called bile. When we eat, the gallbladder contracts and empties bile into the duodenum (small intestine). But when the gallbladder fails to empty completely or not often enough, bile may become concentrated. This can lead to the formation of the gallstones.
  • The bile contains a lot of cholesterol In general, the bile produced in the liver contains sufficient chemicals that can dissolve the cholesterol excreted by the liver. But in some cases, the liver excretes more cholesterol than the bile can dissolve. This excess cholesterol can turn into crystals and ultimately into stones.

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Symptoms of Gallstones

Formation of gallstones, in general, may not show any signs or symptoms. But an indication of this is that the gallstone pain lasts several minutes to 2 to 3 hours. If in a case the gallstone lodges in a duct and cause a blockage, it may result in some signs and symptoms. They include:

  • Pain in the right shoulder of the body
  • The feeling of nausea or vomiting
  • Back pain ( between the shoulder blades)
  • Sudden and rapidly excruciating pain in the upper part of the abdomen
  • Sudden and rapidly increasing pain in the center portion of the abdomen (just below the breastbone)

Treatments of Gallstones

The treatment of gallstones is determined based on the symptoms, tests, and diagnosis of the doctor. In most cases, people with gallstones will not need any sort of treatment. However, the doctor will ask you to stay alert for any symptoms of gallstone complications. The symptom may be excruciating pain in your right abdomen. If the symptom persists or occurs in the future, there are the following treatments available.

  • Medications that dissolve the gallstones Treatment of gallstones by medications is not a common one. It is done to those people who cannot undergo surgery. Medications may or may not work. Even if they work, medications may take months or years of treatment to dissolve the gallstones completely. And, there is a risk of gallstones forming again if the medications are stopped. So, it is not a recommended treatment for gallstones.
  • Cholecystectomy- Surgery in which the gallbladder is removed Gallstones tend to frequently recur. Therefore, the doctors recommend cholecystectomy, a surgery to remove the gallbladder. Once the gallbladder is removed, bile is no more stored in the gallbladder rather it directly flows into the small intestine. A human being can very well live without the gallbladder. Removal of the gallbladder does not affect the ability of digestion of food. However, it may cause diarrhea.

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