Gallstones or Gallbladder Stones
Gallstones are a result of a malfunction of the gallbladder. They appear when the
liquid inside the gallbladder hardens and creates small hard pieces that resemble
The bile is the liquid inside the gallbladder. It is produced by the liver and then
kept inside the gallbladder until fat digestion is needed. It will then be pushed
by the gallbladder into the common bile duct and then it will get inside the small
intestine where it will perform its digestive function.
The bile is made out of water, bile salts, cholesterol, fats, proteins, and bilirubin.
All these components give bile its yellowish color and break up the fats. The reason
why gallstones form out of bile is because sometimes this bile composition can change
containing a lot of cholesterol or a lot of bile salts and bilirubin.
Cholesterol stones have a yellow-greenish color and are made of cholesterol most
of all. 80% of the gallstones are represented by cholesterol stones.
Another type of gallstones is that made out of pigment (bilirubin) and is small
The size of the gallstones is varied. Some stones are tiny but others can occupy
the whole place in the gallbladder. Sometimes inside the gallbladder doctors find
one stone and in other patients they might find 2 to 10 stones of different sizes
The biliary system is made out of the gallbladder and the ducts. This system is
carrying the bile from the liver towards the small intestine to help in the digestion
Gallstones can interfere with the bile’s normal flow and can block it if they get
stuck in any of the small ducts: the hepatic ducts, the cystic duct and the common
bile duct. If the bile gets locked inside one of these ducts complications like
pancreatitis or gallbladder inflammation can occur. Signs of such a problem are:
jaundice, fever and intense pain that lasts a long time.
Gallstones form due to an increased quantity of cholesterol inside the bile, due
to biliary tract infections and other assumptions like: hereditary blood disorders
Other factors that lead to gallstones formation are: obesity, ethnicity, age, gender,
diabetes and rapid weight loss.
Obesity is considered a factor of risk because it reduces the amount of bile salts
in bile and so cholesterol will be in an increased amount inside that bile.
Native Americans have a genetic predisposition for developing gallstones. They seem
to secrete more cholesterol inside the bile than needed. Most of all those aged
over 60 are suspected to be at risk of developing gallstones more frequent than
others aged less then 60.
Women are exposed to this disease more than men. They might develop gallstones between
20 and 60 years of age. It seems that among the Pima Indians of Arizona 70% of the
women aged under 30 have gallstones already. Mexican American men and women have
a high risk of developing this affection too.
Those who have diabetes are considered to be exposed to gallstones because they
have high levels of triglycerides which increase the risk of gallstones.
Is someone looses weight in a short while the fat will be metabolized by the body
during this loss of weight and will determine the liver to secrete more cholesterol
in the bile, resulting the gallstone’s formation.
Also, pregnant women and those who follow hormone therapy based on estrogens can
develop gallstones. Estrogen has been proven to increase the level of cholesterol
inside the bile and decrease the gallbladder’s movements.
Gallstones can give symptoms that look like attacks because they install suddenly.
Some of the classic symptoms are: nausea and vomiting, pain in the right upper abdomen
that gets worse as time passes and pain in the right shoulder and the area between
the shoulder blades. Bloating, belching, gas, jaundice, fever and indigestion are
also present in such an attack.
Sometimes the gallstones give no symptoms and are considered to be silent stones.
They generally do not interfere with the pancreas or gallbladder and to not require
Diagnosing gallstones is usually made by accident, especially the silent ones while
performing some tests for other problems. If the doctor suspects that you feel sick
because of gallstones he will ran an ultrasound test to see if gallstones are present.
These ultrasounds are not harmful and are used even when showing the baby to the
Other tests can also be performed like the CT which will show the complications
too. A magnetic resonance cholangiogram can be used when suspecting that the bile
ducts have been blocked by the gallstone. For showing a malfunction in the contraction
of the gallbladder the cholescintigraphy will be used. This means that a radioactive
material will be injected in the body and it will stimulate the gallbladder to contract
showing any abnormalities in this process. Sometimes even blood tests will be requested
to see signs of possible infection, obstruction or pancreatitis.
Doctors know that the symptoms of gallstones are similar to those of appendicitis,
pancreatitis, hepatitis, heart attack and ulcers and will perform tests to eliminate
these diseases before diagnosing gallstones.
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