Most people are aware that gallstones are small stones that are produced in our bladder and can cause a lot of pain. As well as causing pain they can cause your gallbladder to become inflamed and in most cases the main treatment is an operation that removes the gallbladder.
A gallbladder is a little organ that sits under your liver and is responsible for storing and secreting digestive juices known as bile. In some cases the bile can get too thick and this can then go on to cause gallstones. Gallstones vary in size from that of a small grain of sand too as big as a golf ball. They also vary in number and some people have hundreds and others have just one. There are many people that suffer from gallstones and do not even know about it, as they do not cause any problems. When they block the pipes that carry the bile from the gallbladder to the bowel they can result in a lot of pain. The most common group of people to get gallstones are those who are over 40, female, overweight, pregnant, losing lots of weight fast, and eating heaps of fatty foods.
As mentioned above, most people with gallstones do not get symptoms. However if they block a pipe they can cause a pain that is described as cramping, steady and quite severe. The pain is usually felt in the right and upper side of the abdomen and doctors know this pain as biliary colic or biliary pain. Ones first attack of biliary colic may leave them rather frightened as it is very painful and regular painkillers are not usually effective for this type of pain. Things that make the pain worse are when you move around or pass wind. Some people will feel very sick and then vomit. Pain most commonly comes on at night or in the evening and can occur quite quickly after you eat. If you are lucky it may only last for 15 minutes, however it more commonly lasts for up to six hours. Sometimes gallstones can pass on their own accord into the bowel and then into your stool. In many cases the gallstones do not pass on their own, however sometimes they can block the tube. This may result in bile getting clogged up in the gallbladder where it can’t get out. This can cause an inflamed gallbladder and results in a condition known as cholecystitis. If this happens to you then the pain will not go away and the upper and right part of your abdomen will feel tender if you press on it. It is also possible that you may lose your appetite and have a fever. Some people with this also get a yellow tinge to their skin and eyes, their skin may become itchy, and they may have dark urine and pale stools. If you suffer from this you will probably need to go to the hospital for treatment.
The most commonly performed treatment in hospital for this problem is the removal of the gallbladder by an operation. There are other treatments that are available if you do not want surgery or cannot have it, however these tend to be less effective and less permanent. Surgery is the most common thing done as you can live a perfectly normal life without your gallbladder. Removal can be done by keyhole surgery or by open surgery. Most people prefer keyhole surgery as it leaves less scarring and it take less time to recover. You can usually go home the day of your operation if you have had keyhole surgery, however you will need to stay in a few days if you have had open surgery. Also there are fewer complications with keyhole surgery than with open surgery. Some people do have to have open surgery if they have very inflamed gallbladders and sometimes keyhole surgery needs to be converted to open during the operation. Your body will no longer make gallstones once you have had the gallbladder removed and so you should no longer get pain from these. Although this is a very common operation there are still many complications that can arise from any kind of surgery. Things to be aware of are that you may react badly to the anesthetic, or get a bad infection; some even have problems with bleeding. Your body will still make digestive juices when your gallbladder has been removed. After surgery many people find that they need to pass stools more often than before and other suffer from diarrhea.
As mentioned earlier not everyone can have surgery and there are other treatments available for this. These treatments break up the gallstones into small pieces that can be passed out of the body. There are tablets that you can take that aim to dissolve the gallstones. One of these medications is known as ursodeoxycholic acid, however treatment in this case takes 6 to 18 months. Another form of treatment uses shock waves to break up the gallstones into small pieces that go into your bowel and then out into your stool. This form of treatment is known as extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy. This may even be used in combination with the dissolving tablet. Both of these treatment methods may not be permanent as your body can make new gallstones.
What can I do?
There are a few things that you can do to stop gallstones from forming and some of these include maintaining a healthy weight, losing weight gradually, eating regularly with a healthy Mediterranean styled diet, and drink only moderate amounts of alcohol.
In those who have only one attack of painful gallstones then you should probably wait and see whether or not you get it again before thinking about treatment. If you have a gallbladder that is inflamed and you do not seek medical treatment, there is a risk of serious complications. Some of the things that can go wrong include a hole in the bowel or an infection in the bile duct. However these major complications are quite rare.