Gallstones form when certain constituent parts of the bile in your digestive system harden into solid stones. When this occurs, the gallbladder can develop one large stone or several tiny stones. They can range in size from as large as a golf ball to as small as a grain of sand. In some cases, they can become lodged in the bile ducts, leading to inflammation in the gallbladder, the ducts, or, rarely, the liver. A blocked bile duct can also lead to severe, or even fatal, damage to the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas.
Dr. Tabibis an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of gallstones. To schedule your appointment with him, contact us today.
Causes of Gallstones
Contributing factors to gallstones include lifestyle, ethnic, gender, and age factors.
- Obesity, especially in women, is a major risk factor for gallstones. This is because obesity tends to reduce levels of bile salts.
- Estrogen –particularly excess levels associated with pregnancy, birth control, and hormone replacement therapy – increase cholesterol levels in the bile and decrease gallbladder movement.
- Native American ancestry also plays a role, as individuals of this ethnic group tend be genetically predisposed to have high levels of cholesterol in bile. People of Mexican ancestry also have this predisposition.
- Women between the ages of 20 and 60 are twice as likely to develop gallstones as men of the same age.
- People over age 60 are at a higher risk than younger people.
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs can increase the amount of cholesterol in bile.
- Diabetics have higher triglyceride levels, another risk factor.
- Rapid weight loss can increase cholesterol levels in bile.
- Fasting decreases gallbladder movement, causing an increased concentration of cholesterol in bile.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Many gallstones have no symptoms and, therefore, do not require treatment. Gallstones usually cause a sudden onset of symptoms, known as attacks. They may include:
- Upper abdominal pain that increases rapidly and lasts for 30 minutes or more
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Pain beneath the right shoulder
- Nausea or vomiting
If a gallstone blocks a bile duct for a long period of time, you may develop jaundice. This is a serious condition that requires medical attention. Symptoms may include chills, fever, yellowing skin or eyes, or clay-colored stools.
Symptomatic gallstones are usually treated with surgical removal of the gallbladder. Like some other organs, you can lead a perfectly full life without your gallbladder. Once removed, the bile simply travels from the liver to the small intestine without being stored first. About one percent of people who have this surgery get diarrhea as a result.
Surgical removal of the gallbladder, known as cholecystectomy, is usually performed laparoscopically. This type of procedure is less invasive than open surgery, instead using several small incisions and specialized instruments to allow Dr. Tabib to remove the gallbladder. He can also remove any gallstones from your bile ducts.
If you are experiencing pain or other symptoms of gallstones, contact us to schedule an appointment with Dr. Tabib today. He can perform an ultrasound or other tests to determine if you have gallstones and recommend the best course of treatment for you.