Gallstones are pieces of solid material that form in the gallbladder, a small organ located under the liver. They can cause pain when they block a bile duct. Gallstones form in the gallbladder and refer to hardened deposits of digestive fluid (otherwise known as bile). They may develop in various numbers and sizes, and require careful attention to any emerging symptoms.
Gallstones don’t always present signs or symptoms. In those cases, treatment typically isn’t required. Symptoms generally occur when the gallstone lodges in a duct that causes a blockage. In that case, painful symptoms emerge:
Although it remains unclear exactly what causes gallstones, there are certain risk factors that precede their occurrence. An excess of cholesterol or certain chemicals in your gallbladder may form crystals that turn into gallstones. Another risk factor is when your gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly or often enough, creating concentrated bile and thereby forming stones.
Other noted risk factors include, but aren’t limited to, being female, being 40 or older, not moving enough, being pregnant, eating a high-fat or high-cholesterol diet, having diabetes, taking medications that contain estrogen, or having liver disease.
Left untreated, symptomatic gallstones can lead to various and severe complications. These include:
If your gallstones don’t reveal any signs or symptoms, treatment isn’t necessary. Emerging symptoms or intensifying pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen indicates the need for treatment, though.
Before determining the proper treatment for your case, Dr. Makhani first assesses and diagnoses its severity. Some cases can be cured with oral medications that serve to dissolve the gallstones, but it may take months or years for the stones to dissolve using this method. It’s entirely possible that either the medication won’t work, or the gallstones may form again if you stop taking them.
Surgery to remove the gallbladder (i.e., cholecystectomy) typically is recommended over medications due to its effectiveness: It completely stops gallstones from recurring, which happens frequently if the gallbladder is left in place.
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