Who Is at High Risk for Gallstones?
Your gastrointestinal tract is a large and complex system responsible for the all-important digestion process. Occasionally, abnormalities and disorders can occur in this intricate network. One relatively common problem you might encounter is known as gallstones.
Gallstones form inside an organ called the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small gastrointestinal system component that lies next to the liver and houses bile.
Bile is a crucial digestive juice that is vital to the body’s ability to break down food and absorb the critical nutrients needed to feed other systems.
Scientific researchers cannot conclude one specific reason gallstones form. Medical professionals do believe the ailment may be precipitated by several underlying causes such as:
A Saturated Gallbladder
The organ must routinely release its bile content to remain in optimal working condition. When the emptying process fails to occur regularly, bile levels increase their concentration. Excessive concentration increases the bile’s hardness, which precipitates the development of stones.
Excessive Cholesterol Concentrations in Bile
Researchers suggest that as many as 80 percent of all gallstone cases can be attributed to bile with excessively elevated cholesterol levels.
This circumstance can be caused by an abnormally high dietary intake of cholesterol. The problem can result from the overproduction of cholesterol by your liver.
Heightened Bilirubin Levels
Increased bilirubin concentrations make up a percentage of instances of gallstones not connected to cholesterol levels.
Bilirubin is a substance employed by the liver to eradicate old or no longer needed red blood cells. Certain illnesses, especially those involving the liver and blood, force the liver to produce increased bilirubin amounts.
Occasionally, when bilirubin levels become more pronounced, gallstones form because the gallbladder simply cannot remove the excessive amounts of bilirubin.
Those At Greatest Risk
Gallstones are a relatively common disorder. Many categories of people stand at greater risk of contracting said ailment, including:
- People age 40 and older.
- Overweight or obese individuals.
- Those with Native American or Mexican heritage.
- Individuals who regularly use specific medications, particularly cholesterol-lowering preparations, and contraceptives.
- Persons with a family history of gallstones.
- Subjects who have experienced extreme weight loss over short durations.
- Those possessing certain illnesses, such as blood disorders, serious liver disease, diabetes, and various digestive issues.
Additionally, gallstone formation can be attributed to specific dietary habits. For example, persons consuming foods high in cholesterol are thought to be at greater risk.
Gallstones can elicit several unpleasant to potentially severe symptoms, including:
- Appetite loss.
- Digestive disorders, such as gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, and belching.
- Abdominal pain, which is often most prevalent in the upper right quadrant directly beneath the rib cage.
- Discomfort that radiates to other bodily regions like the shoulders and back.
Sometimes, gallstones might precipitate acute events, including blockages and infections. These potentially serious events can include significantly elevated body temperature, extreme abdominal pain that usually lingers for extended periods, chills, dark-colored urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
Arguably, the most dangerous complication of a gallstone attack is the risk for infection. These pathogenic accumulations can be confined to the gallbladder but might also spread to other neighboring areas, like the bile ducts, liver, and pancreas.
Gallstone development can increase a person’s chance of contracting gallbladder cancer.
Since gallstones form well inside the body, an examining physician will not likely be able to confirm a diagnosis without employing some type of diagnostic imaging tool.
Frequently used tools include computerized tomography, CT scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs).
Other commonly utilized tests include abdominal ultrasound. During this procedure, trained medical professionals move a transducer up and down your abdominal region. As the transducer moves, it transmits signals to a computer, creating images of your abdominal area.
Your doctor might also use endoscopic ultrasound. This process involves the insertion of a thin tube down your throat and into your digestive system. This apparatus is equipped with a tiny transducer, which transmits images like an abdominal ultrasound.
Though blood tests cannot completely confirm a diagnosis, they may reveal the presence of infections that gallstones could have caused.
In a percentage of cases, small gallstones do not cause any symptoms, often go unnoticed, and do not need treatment.
There is no one surefire treatment method. The specific therapy chosen by your doctor will depend on several key issues such as your:
- General health.
- The size and specific location of the gallstone.
- Factors resulting in gallstone development.
Specific common treatment options are often employed, including:
If your stone is relatively small, not causing significant life-altering symptoms, or not likely to cause any immediate complications, or you are not a good candidate for surgery, your doctor might prescribe oral medications designed to dissolve the gallstone gradually.
Typically, these medications often must be used for periods lasting many months and possibly years. Lifelong use might be required to prevent recurrences.
Usually, gallstone development tends to reoccur. Many physicians recommend that those physically capable of undergoing surgery have their gallbladder removed. It is important to note that your gallbladder is not necessary for survival or adequate digestion.
This procedure, which is called a cholecystectomy, enables bile to flow into your liver directly via the small intestine.
Occasionally, asymptomatic gallstones are diagnosed during tests used to detect other digestive or systemic ailments. In such instances, your doctor might suggest entering a period of watchful waiting.
This means you will likely be asked to remain vigilant and promptly notify your doctor should any of the common physical symptoms emerge.
Recovery time varies depending on the specific form of procedure or treatment administered.
Stone-dissolving drugs can take months or years to eradicate existing growths and are usually only prescribed if you cannot undergo surgery.
You will likely recover from gallbladder removal surgery much quicker. In uncomplicated procedures, you could return home as soon as the day following the surgery.
Fortunately, you might be able to prevent gallstones by adhering to the following prevention tips:
Avoid Excessive Weight Gain
Reaching and keeping a healthy weight is crucial to gallstone prevention. That goal might be achieved through activities like exercising and limiting calorie intake.
Consume A Nutritious Diet
You may be able to reduce your chances by curtailing your intake of cholesterol-heavy food and consuming a diet filled with nutritious, digestion-friendly items like produce and whole-grain products.
Observe A Steady Nutritional Schedule
Practicing unusual dietary habits or fasting for prolonged durations could increase your risk. Instead, consume the same number of meals each day on a relatively consistent schedule.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
The excessive intake of alcoholic beverages can precipitate liver damage. Liver damage may increase your risk of gallbladder problems and gallstone development.
Control Cholesterol Levels
Check your cholesterol levels carefully and regularly. This is especially important if you have a family history of high cholesterol.
Gallstones can be painful and debilitating. But the condition is often correctible and does not usually lead to complications or associated issues.
Our practice began more than 15 years ago and has emerged as one of the leading gastroenterology practices in central Florida. We perform a host of diagnostic procedures using state-of-the-art equipment in a friendly, comfortable, and inviting atmosphere where patient care is always a top priority. Contact us today!