Health issues related to the gallbladder are faced by almost every other adult today and the majority of the time, the main problem of pain happens to be caused by gallstones. Around 10-20 percent of the adults are said to have gallstones.
Additionally, in some of the age groups, the chance of moderate to severe gallbladder pain and gallstones goes up to 40 percent. The risk of gallstones rises with the process of aging which means older adults are more prone to having them.
Gallstone surgery has also become one of the most widely performed surgeries. According to the statistics, there are approximately 750,000 surgeries performed every year to remove gallstones in North America alone.
What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are solid and tiny pieces of different types of matter which can vary from person to person found in the gallbladder – the sac-shaped organ under the stomach which plays the fundamental function of storing the bile made by the liver.
Majority of the times, gallstones are composed of excess calcium deposits, cholesterol particles, and other substances that are present in the bile. These stones can differ in composition, size, density, and shape.
The symptoms of the gallstones in the gallbladder can also change in accordance with these factors. On the other hand, the reason behind the creation of these stones in most of the people is usually always the same.
Gallstones are formed as a result of binding of the particles such as calcium and cholesterol to each other. Later on, the joined particles are lodged into the gallbladder leading to pain as well as a couple of other problems including back pain and indigestion.
Generally, the storage capacity of the gallbladder is only confined to liquid matter such as the bile. Therefore, the presence of solid matter in it causes extreme discomfort, pain, and very noticeable symptoms.
A case of a person having the gallstones may not resemble another on the basis of different factors including the size or composition. Gallstones can range from soft and small size to hard and as big as the gallbladder is itself in size.
In comparison with Kidney stones, gallbladder stones are softer. This is because gallstones typically have a high concentration of cholesterol. They are also said to be easier to treat than kidney stones and in a less complicated way.
What Causes Gallstones?
The gallbladder is specifically known for its ability to expand and store a lot of liquid matter. It is also referred to as the most bag-like and soft organ. It is important to know what and how the gallbladder does to understand how gallstones form.
Without proper functioning of the gallbladder, a person can have a lot of health issues including problems in digestion since the significant function of storing the bile – the digestive liquid required to break down fats in the food, is stored in the gallbladder.
Drainage and accumulation of the bile by the gallbladder are done through a pipe called the cystic duct. The positioning of the gallbladder on the top of the bowel and near the liver is important for it to perform its function.
The size of the gallbladder is not really the same for every person. A number of factors such as eating habits and schedule, gut health, and other can affect the size of the gallbladder. Normally the size can be anywhere between a plum and an orange.
When the binding of cholesterol with other particles takes place, the larger and more solid particles that are formed as a result are bound to get lodged in the gallbladder. Usually, they are lodged in the inner lining of the gallbladder that turns into stones over time.
Researchers up till now are not able to detect and agree upon one exact reason that triggers the binding of particles and creation of the stones. One of the widely agreed reasons is a higher concentration of cholesterol in the bile.
A higher level of cholesterol can be a result of a hormonal imbalance or poor diet choices. Looking at the Standard American Diets today, the increase in gallstones cases can be blamed on the latter. Poor diet can also cause the hormonal imbalance that creates gallstones.
Another reason behind a higher amount of cholesterol in bile is the liver malfunction. The bile released by the liver contains all the essential enzymes needed for the breakdown of cholesterol produced by the liver.
Sometimes, the liver produces too much cholesterol that cannot be dissolved. Other reasons behind the formation of gallstones include over-production of the bilirubin by the liver and the reduced function of bile duct valve.
Who Is At A Higher Risk Of Gallstones?
When it comes to having gallstones, a lot of factors are taken into account. A person’s gender, genetics, age, body composition, and diet can all have an effect on the risk of developing gallstones as well as liver malfunctioning.
Looking at the latest statistics, gallstones are seen to be most common in:
- Adults that have crossed the age of 40
- People who are overweight/obese (especially the ones who have fat accumulated around their waist)
- People with of digestive/liver issues
Other habits that can increase a person’s risk of having gallstones are:
- Family history of gallstones
- Eating a poor diet (filled with foods loaded with LDL)
- Lack of physical activity
- Low HDL or what is known as good cholesterol
- Losing weight in an unhealthy way (starving, going without food for a long time, or fasting)
- Birth Control Pills
- Certain medications (such as the ones for lowering cholesterol levels in the blood, estrogen pills, and medicine for liver disease)
What Are The Symptoms Of Gallstones?
Even though gallbladder stones can cause extreme pain and discomfort in many people, it has been seen that in some cases, people are not even aware of having gallstones since their symptoms are not as visible.
Just as the cause of the gallstones can vary from person to person, the symptoms can also be different. Some can have piercing pains while others may not notice any change at all. Many people find out about their gallstones when having a CT scan or tests for other health condition.
The signs of gallstones also tend to depend on the location of the stones. While gallstones are always created inside the gallbladder, they can move to other places such as the inside the small bowel, in the bile duct, or at the junction of the duct.
Gallstones blocking the gallbladder do not only lead to problems in the gallbladder but can also cause inflammation in the pancreas and in the liver. This is also why a person with gallstones may see swelling from the abdomen to the shoulders.
Whenever a person does have gallstones, the most common signs to appear are:
- Tension and a tightening sensation around the digestive organs (stomach, liver, intestine, and others) especially after a meal
- Pain under the right shoulder or in the backside of the right shoulder
- Pain in the abdomen
- Severe and sudden pain in the upper-right of the abdomen which can last for many hours
In the majority of the cases, gallbladder stones are not considered a major threat and can be treated easily. However, in severe cases, they may require surgery in which the person might need to get the entire gallbladder removed.
If a person experiences any of the symptoms of gallbladder stones, the doctor will recommend either ultra-sounds or X-ray for a proper diagnosis where the former is believed to be the most reliable way of detecting gallstones.