The gallbladder is one of the smallest organs that looks like a sac and stores bile produced by the liver. Bile juice plays an important role in breaking down the dietary fats we consume. The gallbladder makes the bile fluid highly concentrated, and the presence of fatty foods allows the gallbladder to flow concentrated bile into your small intestine.
What are gallstones?
Gallstones, technically called biliary calculi, are small stones that can vary in size (0.5 to 5cm) and number. They are usually formed out of a mixture in the gallbladder that includes cholesterol, bile pigment, and calcium salts. They are common and may affect around 10% to 15% of people, especially those aged 50 and over.
The main reasons for gallstone formation are the crystallisation of extra cholesterol in bile and the inability to drain bile completely.
Gallstones may not cause any problems for most people. However, in some cases, gallstones might block the bile ducts, which may result in complications like infections or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). In these conditions, prompt treatment is necessary.
Treatments include removing the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) in severe cases if gallstones cause problems or other gallbladder diseases. The gallbladder can be removed either through laparoscopic (‘keyhole’) cholecystectomy or open surgery. People can live without a gallbladder; your body can cope well without it.
Symptoms that indicate a person has gallstones
It is a fact that around 70% of people with gallstones have no symptoms.
However, in other cases, symptoms of gallstones are:
- Abdominal pain and back pain, which are generally infrequent but severe at times,
- Pain in the abdominal area increases after having a fatty meal
- If the gallbladder or bile duct becomes infected, you may notice severe fever and pain
Gallstones are of three different types:
Mixed stones: This is the most common type of stone that is formed out of cholesterol and salts. These stones mostly form in batches
Cholesterol stones: Cholesterol (a fat-like substance) is the main component of these stones, and it is a crucial substance in many metabolic processes. The cholesterol stones can grow to a size that can block bile ducts.
Pigment stones: These stones are formed out of bile pigment, which is greenish-brown in colour. Pigmented stones are usually small but numerous.
Causes of gallstones
Gallstones have many different causes and risks.
Women are at greater risk of developing gallstones compared to men. People who are obese and have a history of gallstones in the family are also at risk of developing them.
The liver produces more cholesterol in some people, and this may lead to the formation of cholesterol stones. In other people, gallstones form due to unnecessary changes in bile components or the inability to empty the gallbladder normally.
When do people with gallstones need to remove their gallbladder?
Gallbladder removal surgery is necessary if symptoms caused by gallstones are severe.
These stones can obstruct the gallbladder’s opening to the bile duct, which leads to biliary colic pain. This condition may cause:
- The pain starts from the upper right abdominal part
- The pain occasionally spreads to the upper back or right shoulder
- It may last 15 minutes to a few hours
- It usually begins shortly after eating
- Sometimes it may begin in the middle of the night.
- Symptoms like nausea or vomiting are common
Though it is a painful condition, it might be too dangerous. However, it is an indication that your gallbladder should be removed. So people with this condition are more likely to develop severe gallstone complications.
When should I have gallbladder surgery?
If medication can’t cure gallstones, then people with symptoms might need gallbladder surgery to prevent further gallstone complications.
A cholecystectomy is suggested if you have:
- Symptomatic gallstones
- Gallbladder Inflammation (acute cholecystitis)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Gallbladder cancer
Gallbladder removal surgery is not always the only option if you have gallstones. If you are having symptoms or think you have gallstones, consult an expert doctor as soon as possible. Dr. Venugopsl Pareek is one of the best doctors for gallstone problems in Hyderabad. He will perform an ultrasound or CT scan of the abdomen to diagnose whether you have gallstones.
Consult Dr. Pareek for more detailed information. To book his consultation, call +91 91-777-77715 during working hours. He has nearly two decades of experience dealing with gallstones and related surgeries.