Gallstones

Gallstones are small stones that form in the gallbladder or the bile ducts, the tubes that carry bile to the small intestine. They usually don't cause symptoms unless they block the opening to the gallbladder. If that happens, you may have pain in the upper right part of your belly.

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Complications and Comorbidities

What problems can happen when you have gallstones?

Gallstones can cause many different problems, such as:

  • A blockage in the common bile duct.
  • Inflammation or infection of the gallbladder (acute cholecystitis). This can happen when a gallstone blocks the cystic duct.
  • Inflammation or infection of the common bile duct (cholangitis). This can happen when gallstones get stuck in the common bile duct. In rare cases, this can damage the liver or spread infection.
  • Pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas.

Course

What happens when you have gallstones?

Most people with gallstones have no symptoms and don't need treatment. The most common problem caused by gallstones occurs when a gallstone blocks the cystic duct that drains the gallbladder. You may have nausea, vomiting, fever, and severe abdominal pain. If you have these symptoms, you may need surgery.

Definition

Gallstones

Gallstones are small stones that form in the gallbladder or the bile ducts, the tubes that carry bile to the small intestine. They usually don't cause symptoms unless they block the opening to the gallbladder. If that happens, you may have pain in the upper right part of your belly.

If you have a bad attack, or a second attack, you may want to have your gallbladder removed because you are likely to have more attacks.

Diagnostics

How are gallstones diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about when the pain in your belly started, where it is, and if it comes and goes or is always there. If your doctor thinks you have gallstones, he or she may order an ultrasound of the belly to confirm the diagnosis.

Prevention

How can you prevent gallstones?

There is no sure way to prevent gallstones. But you can reduce your risk of forming gallstones that can cause symptoms.

  • Stay at a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, do so slowly and sensibly.
  • Eat regular, balanced meals.
  • Be active, and exercise regularly.

Risk Factors

What increases your risk of having gallstones?

Your chances of forming gallstones that can cause symptoms are higher if you:

  • Are female. Females are twice as likely as males to have gallstones.
  • Are older than 55.
  • Are Native American or Mexican-American.
  • Have a family history of gallstones.

You may also be increasing your risk for gallstones if you:

  • Are overweight.
  • Lose weight rapidly or lose weight by dieting and then gain weight back again.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Are taking estrogen (after menopause) or high-dose birth control pills.
  • Get very little or no exercise.
  • Do not eat for a period of time (fast).

Self-care Treatment Options

How can you care for yourself when you have gallstones?

Rest until you feel better. If your doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed. Avoid foods that cause symptoms, especially fatty foods. These foods can make the gallbladder tighten and cause pain.

Signs and Symptoms

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

Most people who have gallstones don't have symptoms. If you have symptoms, you likely will have pain in your stomach or the upper right part of your belly. Pain may spread to your right upper back or shoulder blade area. When gallstones block a bile duct, you may have pain with fever and chills.

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

If you have symptoms, you may have pain in the pit of your stomach or in the upper right part of your belly. Pain may spread to your right upper back or shoulder blade area. Sometimes the pain is more severe. It may be steady, or it may come and go. It may get worse when you eat.

When gallstones block a bile duct, you may have pain with fever and chills. Or your skin or the whites of your eyes may turn yellow. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor right away. They may be a of sign of pancreatitis or an infection of the gallbladder.

Symptoms of gallstones may feel like chest pain caused by a heart attack or other serious problems. Call your doctor right away if you have sudden or bad pain in your belly or chest and you're not sure what's causing it.

Surgical Treatment

How is surgery used to treat gallstones?

Surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is the treatment of choice for gallstones that cause moderate to severe pain or other symptoms. Symptoms usually don't return after the gallbladder is removed. If you have certain health problems, surgery may also be done even if you don't have symptoms. In a small number of cases, surgery may be done to prevent other problems from gallstones.

Laparoscopic surgery is the most common way to remove the gallbladder. A doctor puts a lighted viewing tool and surgical tools into your belly through several small cuts. People who have this surgery usually recover in about 1 week.

Open surgery involves one larger cut. The gallbladder is removed through this cut. It may be done if laparoscopic surgery isn't an option. Or it may be done when other problems are found during laparoscopic surgery. This type of surgery requires a longer recovery period. It also causes more pain.

Treatment Options

How are gallstones treated?

If you don't have symptoms, you probably don't need treatment.

If you do have symptoms and your first gallstone attack causes pain, your doctor may tell you to take pain medicine and wait to see if the pain goes away. You may never have another attack. Waiting to see what happens usually won't cause problems.

If you have a second attack, you may want to have your gallbladder removed. A second attack means you're more likely to have future attacks. Many people have their gallbladders removed. And the body works fine without a gallbladder.

How are gallstones treated?

If you don't have symptoms, you probably don't need treatment. If your first gallstone attack causes pain, your doctor may tell you to take pain medicine and wait to see if the pain goes away. If you have more attacks, you may want to have your gallbladder removed.

What Causes It

What causes gallstones?

Gallstones form when cholesterol and other substances found in bile make stones. They can also form if the gallbladder doesn't empty as it should. People who are overweight or who are trying to lose weight quickly are more likely to get gallstones.

What It Is

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are stones that form in the gallbladder. They are made from cholesterol and other substances found in the bile. They can be smaller than a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Most gallstones don't cause problems. But if they block a duct, they usually need treatment.

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