What are gallstones

What are Gallstones?


Gallstones are one of the major causes that lead to hospitalization. Gallstones are formed within your gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ on the right side of the abdomen, just below the liver. The gallbladder stores a fluid called bile, which is a digestive juice formed by the liver and helps in the digestion process. It breaks down fats into fatty acids. The majority of people all over the globe suffer from gallstone formation. It affects around 25 million people in America and about 6 million people in Germany. In the USA alone, 100,000 people die every year due to gallstones and the complications associated with them.

Table of contents:-

  • What are gallstones?
  • Types of gallstones
  • Signs and symptoms of gallstones
  • Causes of gallstones
  • Risk factors for gallstones
  • Complications associated with gallstones
  • Preventing gallstones

What are gallstones?

Gallstones, also called cholelithiasis, are hardened deposits of digestive fluid formed in the gallbladder. They can be of any size, from small sand grain size to the size of a golf ball. The numbers may vary. The digestive fluid, bile, stored in the gall bladder, also carries wastes like cholesterol and bilirubin. These are formed during the breakdown of RBC (red blood cells).

Gallstones are composed of cholesterol and calcium crystals. In order to dissolve cholesterol and calcium, the epithelium layer of the gallbladder concentrates bile to saturation level and beyond. At such a point, supersaturation and crystallization of cholesterol and calcium salts may occur. However, there can also be some unknown aggregating agent responsible for gallstone formation. It is not just a physiochemical process; more study is needed.

Most of the time, gallstones are asymptomatic (without symptoms). In some cases, they may cause severe colic or spasmodic pain waves in the abdomen. In some cases, other complications may arise, like perforation of the gallbladder, infection, peritonitis, or even death.

Types of gallstones

The two main types of gallstones are:

  • Cholesterol gallstones: These are the most common type of gallstones. Around 80% of gallstones are cholesterol gallstones. They are yellow in color and mainly composed of undissolved cholesterol and other components.
  • Pigment gallstones:-They are formed when your bile contains too much bilirubin. They are generally smaller and darker, either brown or black in color.

What are the signs and symptoms of gallstones?

Asymptomatic gallstones generally show no signs or symptoms. If a stone lodges in the bile duct and causes obstruction, it may show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Sudden and rapidly increasing pain in the upper right side of your abdomen.
  • Pain in the center of your abdomen, just below breast bone.
  • Pain in your right shoulder or back.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Digestive problems like- indigestion, heartburn, and or gas

Gallstone pain may last from few minutes to few hours.

When to consult your healthcare provider

Consult your healthcare provider, if you experience signs of infection or inflammation:

  • Pain in the belly, that is so intense that you can not sit still or find a comfortable sitting or laying position.
  • Chills and fever
  • Pale skin and or eyes color
  • Dark urine or light colored poop.

What are the causes of gallstones?

The causes of gallstones are not clear. But underlying conditions may lead to stone formation.

  • There is an excessive quantity of cholesterol present in your bile. Your liver secretes bile for the digestion of food. Your bile has enough chemicals to dissolve the cholesterol. But when the quantity of cholesterol secreted by your liver is greater than the quantity of bile, it can dissolve. Excessive cholesterol may lead to the formation of gallstones.
  • There is excessive bilirubin present in your bile. Bilirubin is the chemical formed during the breakdown of RBCs (red blood cells). Certain health conditions like liver cirrhosis, infections in the biliary tract, and a few blood disorders can cause your liver to produce too much bilirubin. Excessive bilirubin may lead to the formation of stones.
  • Your gall bladder does not empty completely. Your bile becomes concentrated. Your gall bladder does not get completely empty. The concentrated bile juice may lead to the formation of stones.

What are the risk factors?

The following are the risk factors that may lead to stone formation:

  • Your age is 40 years or older.
  • You are a woman.
  • You have a family history of gallstone formation.
  • You are obese or overweight.
  • You consume a diet that is high in fat cholesterol and low in fiber.
  • You have a native American or Mexican origin.
  • You do not exercise regularly.
  • You are on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
  • You are diabetic
  • You are pregnant.
  • You have an intestinal disease like Crohn’s.
  • You have cirrhosis of the liver.
  • You are fasting.
  • You have hemolytic anemia (a condition when your RBC’s are destroyed faster than they can be replaced).
  • You are on cholesterol-lowering drugs.
  • You are losing weight very fast.
  • You are leading a sedentary lifestyle.

What are complications associated with gallstones?

Complications associated with gallstones may include:

  • Acute cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder): Inflammation of the gallbladder is caused by the lodging of stones in the neck of the gallbladder. This results in inflammation, pain, and fever, as the gallbladder can’t get empty. If timely treatment is not given, it may lead to the bursting or puncturing of the gallbladder.
  • Gallstones can block the ducts (tubes) leading from your gallbladder or liver to your small intestine. This can cause severe pain, jaundice, and bile duct infection (acute cholangitis). which may result in fever, chills, and yellowing of your skin and eyes. If you remain untreated, there are chances that bacteria may spread to your blood stream and can result in a dangerous health condition called sepsis.
  • Gallstones may cause blockage in your pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct is the tube that arises from your pancreas and leads to the common bile duct just before entering the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Pancreatic juices run through this duct. Blockage in the pancreatic duct may cause severe and constant pain and generally needs hospitalization.
  • Gallbladder cancer: Gallbladder cancer is very rare, and people who have a history of gallstones are at an increased risk. Even with increased risk factors, the chances are still very small.

Preventive measures

The following lifestyle changes may help in reducing stone formation:

Consume high fiber and healthy fats- What are gallstones
Consume high fiber and healthy fats
  • Consume more high-fiber foods and healthy fats. Consuming high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet may help you reduce your risk of gallstones. Eating healthy fats fish oil, olive oil, and reducing consumption of unhealthy fats, refined carbs, and sugar also helps you reduce the risk of gallstones.
Follow the fixed meal consumption time
Follow the fixed meal consumption time.
  • Follow the fixed meals Consumption time: Follow the fixed meal consumption time every day. Skipping meals or fasting may increase the risk of stone formation in your gallbladder.
  • Adopt a habit of regular exercise: Following a fixed schedule of regular exercise for at least 30 minutes per day can help you reduce the risk of gallstone formation.
  • Avoid rapid weight loss. Rapid weight loss may increase the risk of stone formation. Therefore, if you are planning to lose weight, go slowly [plan to lose 1-2 pounds (around 0.5-1 kg) per week]. Avoid diets that promise to make you lose weight rapidly.
  • If you are a woman and have a family history of gallstones, you should consult your healthcare provider before using hormonal birth control.
  • Maintain healthy body mass index (BMI); avoid being overweight or obese and maintain a healthy BMI (a healthy BMI is 18.5 to 24.9 whereas overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25, and obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30) by consuming a healthy diet, regular exercise, and leading an active life.
Avoid rapid weight loss and maintain healthy BMI- What are gallstones
Avoid rapid weight loss and maintain healthy BMI

Consult your doctor about treatment options.

For awareness purpose only.

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Surinder Bhalla

Surinder Bhalla

Blogger & Marketing consultant

40+ Years of experience in the healthcare industry

Maansi Survival Aid Foundation.

Maansi Survival Aid Foundation is committed to serving ailing humanity. We promote healthy living and Ayurvedic concepts through our blogs. We organize free health camps. Have 40+years of experience in the health care industry (Modern medicine & Alternate medicine).

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