Gallstones are hardened digestive fluid deposits that form in the gallbladder.
The gallbladder is a thin pear-shaped hollow sac located in the right upper abdomen, right underneath the liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid that releases into your small intestine to aid in digestion.
When the gallbladder becomes diseased, the flow of bile thickens, and gradually solidifies to form stones. Gallstones can become painful when they block a bile duct. Someone can suffer from one or multiple gallstones.
There are two different types of gallstones:
People also often confuse gallstones with kidney stones.
Over 25 million Americans have experienced gallstones, with about 1 million new cases occurring each year.
The exact cause of gallstones remains unclear, but there can be risk factors that lead to the development of gallstones. These may include:
Most individuals with gallstones do not experience any symptoms. However, some signs and symptoms of gallstones can include:
Complications of gallstones can include:
If you report experiencing symptoms, your doctor may order additional tests such as liver and pancreas blood tests to measure the enzymes in your blood. High levels of enzymes can indicate damage to the organs.
An ultrasound of your abdomen can also be done to create a picture of your gallbladder and ducts.
Occasionally, gallstones that are calcified may show up on routine x-rays.
If your gallstones are not causing any symptoms, treatment is not needed. However, painful gallstones may require intervention.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, recommended treatment may vary. It is best to consult with your GI doctor to create the best gallstone treatment plan for you.
Some small gallstones leave the gallbladder and get moved into the small bowel, where they are passed in the stool.
Some gallstones can be dissolved with oral medications. However, this may take months or years, and gallstones may form again.
Surgery to remove the gallbladder can completely stop gallstones from recurring.
While there is no way to guarantee gallstone prevention, reducing the risk of developing gallstones can include eating a healthy high-fiber low-fat diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and regularly exercising.