According to reports, gallstones cause nearly 800,000 hospitalizations in the United States annually. These stones are formed by the accumulation of digestive fluid in the gallbladder. They can be the size of a pea, and in some cases, they could even be as large as a golf ball. Some people may develop only one stone, while others, more than that. The condition seems to be more prevalent in women compared to men.
The mere formation of stones in the gallbladder does not cause any kind of symptoms. The symptoms only occur if one or more stones lodge in a bile duct, thereby causing a blockage. They tend to occur suddenly and may include the following:
- Pain that occurs suddenly in the upper-right abdominal area. This pain intensifies with time.
- A similar pain can be felt in the area right below the breastbone.
- The gallstone pain may get radiated to other places of the body such as the back and the right shoulder.
- The pain may stay for several minutes to a few hours. This is one of the most common gallbladder disease symptoms in women.
Apart from the aforementioned symptoms, women may experience gas, belching, indigestion, and bloating. Immediate medical attention becomes a necessity if severe symptoms occur such as: unbearable pain which makes it difficult for a person to sit properly, the skin and the whites of the eyes turning yellow, and high fever accompanied by chills. The formation of gallstones during pregnancy can be a major concern for most mothers. Moreover, the pain can intensify the pregnancy symptoms the mother is already facing.
High levels of cholesterol in the bile may lead to the formation of crystals, and eventually stones. These are known as cholesterol gallstones and are yellow or green in color. Another reason for gallstone formation is too much amount of bilirubin in the bile. When red blood cells are broken down, bilirubin is produced. This chemical causes the formation of dark brown or black stones in the gallbladder.
For patients who do not experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, doctors may only monitor the condition instead of starting any form of treatment. However, when symptoms start showing up, a surgery is usually recommended.
In the surgery known as cholecystectomy, the gallbladder itself is removed. This is because the gallstones have a tendency to recur. The gallbladder does the work of storing the bile that is secreted by the liver. Now with this organ removed, the bile would flow directly into the small intestine. The surgery does not affect the way the patient digests the food, except that, it may cause diarrhea.
A less common treatment method is using medications that dissolve the stones. However, months or years may pass before any positive results come up. This is why, this method is reserved for people who are not eligible to undergo a gallbladder surgery.
Following a healthy balanced diet may reduce the risk of developing the condition. This might include the consumption of foods rich in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, healthy fats, calcium supplements, etc. Drinking plenty of fluids including water, avoiding preserved foods, losing weight, and eating small frequent meals also help reduce the risk.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.