Gallstones consist of hardened deposits of bile that form in your gallbladder. Bile is digestive fluid synthesized by your liver and is stored in your gallbladder. Bile is released into your small intestines after a meal for the digestion of fats. Your gallbladder is located just beneath your liver at the upper right side of your abdomen.
Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. You can have a single stone or multiple stones. Some people with gallstones may not experience any symptoms while others suffer excruciating pain.
It isn’t clear how gallstones form. Scientists think they can be formed through the following:
There are usually three types of stones. The most common stones in Asian population are dark colored pigment stones, which can be brown or black and are made up of bilirubin. Secondly, they can be yellow cholesterol stones made up of the cholesterol, which is more common in Western population. Finally, they can be mixed stones with pigment and cholesterol stones.
Most people with gallstones are asymptomatic. Others feel a pain that comes so sudden and last several minutes to a few hours.
The symptoms of gallstone disease can be the following:
The following methods are utilized by your doctor to diagnose gallstones:
The treatment of gallstones depends on what you’re experiencing. If you’re asymptomatic but gallstones were visualized through an ultrasound, you generally wouldn’t need any surgery. However, removal of the gallbladder called cholecystectomy is necessary for people with hemolytic anemia or who are at risk for gallbladder cancer.
If you suffer painful symptoms you’ll be advised to undergo cholecystectomy. You can live without your gallbladder since it only stores bile (which is not a vital function). It is the liver that produces the bile which will flow directly into your small intestines.
People with symptoms can have their surgery scheduled at their convenience. Cholecystectomy is almost always done as a laparoscopic procedure (keyhole surgical technique). This is done as a day procedure or an overnight stay at the hospital. The open technique with a long incision may be used for complicated cases, and this will require longer hospital stay.
Gallstones with complications are usually treated as emergency cases. The following are complications:
There is no reliable medication that can help dissolve your gallstones. Cholesterol stones may respond to dissolution therapy, but this takes a long time and they can form again once the medications are stopped.
You can decrease the risk of gallstone formation by eating healthy diets. Crash diets and losing weight quickly increases your risk of gallstones. Obesity is associated with increased gallstone formation, thus maintaining a healthy weight is important.
If you’re experiencing gallbladder problems, seek advice from your doctor immediately before complications set in. It can save you from more suffering.
Senior Consultant Surgeon
MBBS (Singapore), FRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Surgery), MSc (Bioinformatics),
FAMS (General Surgery)
With 20 years of surgical experience, Dr Lee is trained and skilled in using minimally invasive techniques for liver, pancreas, gallbladder and hernia procedures.
His busy practice aside, Dr Lee is actively involved in postgraduate teaching and workshops for junior surgeons, and is still actively involved in academic research at the National University of Singapore.
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