Typically, gallstones are commonly present in an average person’s body and are asymptomatic. However, not all gallstones are harmless and without symptoms – gallstones can invite issues to a minority of patients. For these cases, immediate attention is necessary to keep the symptoms and implications under control.
Gallbladder and gallstones in your body
The first step in knowing whether your gallstones need to be treated is to understand what gallstones are, and how your gallbladder produces them.
Your gallbladder is located below your liver, in the shape of a pear. Its function is to store bile, a greenish-yellow fluid that is produced by your liver. After a sumptuous meal, especially if you’ve taken food high in fat concentration, your gallbladder works hard to secret bile that helps to break down fats for digestion.
How, then, do your gallstones come into the picture? When there is an excess amount of bile salts, the bile salts combine with the cholesterol, fats, waste products from red blood cells and water in your gallbladder to produced hardened bile, also known as gallstones. And the size of a gallstone is not fixed: it can come in the size of a pebble or even a golf ball.
Common signs for gallstone issues
- Sudden severe abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Back pains
- Fever or chills
- Yellowing of the skin
Possible gallstone complications
While gallstones are typically harmless, there are a few cases where the presence of gallstones can be a threat to your body.
- Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
When your gallbladder contracts, it might force the gallstones against the gallbladder outlet and lead to gallbladder inflammation. How a patient might observe this inflammation is through the result of persistent and severe abdominal pain. If left untreated, this may cause severe gallbladder infection and worse, the possibility of your gallbladder bursting.
- Infection of the common bile duct (cholangitis)
While leaving the gallbladder to proceed to the common bile duct, the gallstones could get trapped in the bile duct. As a result, the patient observes abdominal pain, possible fever, vomiting and even yellowing of the skin.
- Inflammation of the pancreatic (pancreatitis)
With the pancreatic duct adjacent to the bile duct, gallstones in the bile duct might obstruct the pancreatic duct. This triggers a reaction – an inflammation of the pancreas. For this scenario, the patient usually contracts abdominal pains, back pains and vomiting.
Perform a diagnosis on your gallstones
If your doctor suspects that you have gallstones, he would refer you to a gastroenterologist – a doctor that specialises in digestive problems. The specialist may order ultrasound imaging test for you to diagnose gallstones in your gallbladder. Fortunately, as many as eighty percent of patients do not experience symptoms and hence, do not need treatment. So for the most accurate diagnosis, it’s best to seek a professional who can examine the severity of your condition.
It’s common for patients to wonder if specific food can help to dissolve the gallstones. Yet, there has not been any proven diet that helps to reduce gallstones. As such, it’s best to consult a professional for your treatment options.
For gallbladder inflammations, doctors typically prescribe antibiotics to keep the inflammation under control. On the other hand, if the gallstones obstruct the passageway in the common bile duct or pancreatic duct, you would be asked to go for an endoscopy to remove the gallstones. Those who already have complications from gallstones should have their gallbladder removed in order to prevent recurrence of the complications.
If you are experiencing stomach pain that is recurrent or prolonged, it’s best to see a doctor to check if the symptoms are related to gallstones. And in the case that you decide to remove your gallbladder, rest assured that your digestive system would not be significantly affected. Removal of the gallbladder could also be the best solution as it removes the root of the problem – the formation of gallstones