Gallbladder stone surgery is one of the most frequently performed surgeries recently. It is estimated that there are more than 250,000 people who have their gallbladder removed each year.
Approximately 10-20 percent of the total adult population (up to 40 percent in some age groups) is known to have mild to moderate gallstones. The incidence of gallbladder symptoms increases with age. Compared to men, gallstones are more common in women over the age of 40.
What is the Gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped, hollow structure located on the right side of the abdomen under the liver. Its primary function is to store and concentrate bile, a yellow-brown digestive enzyme produced by the liver. The gallbladder is part of the bile duct.
The gallbladder acts as a reservoir for bile when not in use for digestion. The absorptive lining of the gallbladder concentrates stored bile. When food enters the small intestine, a hormone called cholecystokinin is released, which signals the gallbladder to contract and secrete bile into the small intestine via the common bile duct.
Bile aids the digestive process by breaking down fats. It also drains waste products from the liver into the duodenum, which is part of the small intestine.
What Causes Gallbladder Stones?
Gallstones, excess cholesterol, bilirubin or bile salts cause gallstones to form. Gallstones are small, hard deposits that usually build up in the gallbladder and form when bile crystallizes. Most gallstones form when there is too much cholesterol in the bile.
According to Harvard Health Publications, 80 percent of gallstones are made of cholesterol. The other 20 percent of gallstones are made of calcium salts and bilirubin.
A person with gallstones will rarely feel any symptoms until the gallstones reach a certain size or if the gallstone blocks the bile ducts. Surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is the most common way to treat gallstones. In this article, we will explain how to get treatment without having your gallbladder removed.
Gallbladder Stone Symptoms
Gallstones can cause pain in the upper right abdominal area. When you eat foods high in fat, such as fried foods, you may start to experience gallbladder pain. Pain usually does not last more than a few hours.
They form when cholesterol, calcium, and other particles bind together and lodge in the gallbladder, causing pain and other problems such as indigestion and back pain. Normally, the gallbladder only stores liquid material, so when solid stones accumulate, they can become serious and noticeable in terms of symptoms.
Gallbladder stone symptoms:
- dark urine
- clay colored stool
- Stomach ache
These symptoms are also known as biliary colic .
A gallbladder attack or gallstone attack is also called biliary colic and refers to when pain occurs in the abdominal area (usually the upper right part). Bile colic occurs due to a gallstone temporarily blocking the bile duct. The pain may radiate to the shoulder and last for an hour or longer.
Gallstones can vary in size, with some being small and softer (almost like sand or mud) to very large and denser gallstones that expand to almost the entire size of the gallbladder. Compared to kidney stones, gallstones are generally softer because they are composed of non-solid cholesterol.
Gallstones themselves do not cause pain. Rather, pain occurs when gallstones block the movement of bile from the gallbladder.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 80 percent of people have “silent gallstones.” This means they do not experience pain or have symptoms. In these cases, your doctor may discover gallstones from x-rays or during abdominal surgery.
When a gallstone blocks the duct through which bile moves from the gallbladder, it can cause inflammation and infection in the gallbladder. This is known as acute cholecystitis. It is a medical emergency.
The risk of developing acute cholecystitis from symptomatic gallstones is 1-3%.
Symptoms associated with acute cholecystitis include:
- Intense pain in the upper stomach or mid-right back
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
If these symptoms last more than 1 to 2 hours or you have a fever, see a doctor immediately.
If gallbladder disease is left untreated, it can cause effects such as:
- Jaundice, a yellowish color to the skin or eyes
- Cholecystitis, which is a gallbladder infection
- Cholangitis, which is a bile duct infection
- Sepsis, blood infection
- inflammation of the pancreas
- gallbladder cancer
Do Gallbladder Stones Cause Weight Gain?
When the gallbladder does not do its job, digestion problems occur. It does not directly contribute to weight gain, but your belly is constantly swollen. Being overweight and losing weight suddenly can cause stones to form in your gallbladder, so you should be careful to lose weight without disturbing your body balance.
How Are Gallbladder Stones Diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine any visible changes in the color of your eyes and skin. A yellowish color may be a sign of jaundice, the result of too much bilirubin in your body.
A number of testing and imaging devices are used to check the correct functioning of the gallbladder. These tests include:
Ultrasound: An ultrasound produces images of your abdomen. It is the preferred imaging method to confirm that you have gallstone disease. It may also indicate abnormalities associated with acute cholecystitis.
Abdominal CT scan: This imaging test takes pictures of your liver and abdominal area.
Gallbladder radionuclide scan: This important scan takes about an hour to complete. A specialist injects a radioactive solution into your veins. This solution passes from the blood to the liver and gallbladder. A scan may show infection or blockage of the bile ducts from stones.
Blood tests: The amount of bilirubin in the blood is measured. These tests also help determine liver function.
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio Pancreatography (ERCP): ERCP is a procedure that uses a camera and X-rays to look at problems in the bile and pancreatic ducts. It helps your doctor see gallstones stuck in your bile duct.
What Should Those Without a Gallbladder Not Eat?
If you had gallbladder surgery and your gallbladder was removed, you may have diarrhea and loose stools for a while after the surgery. This is because bile is constantly released into your intestines.
Avoid the following foods after gallbladder surgery:
- Foods containing more than 3 grams of fat
- Fatty, fried or processed foods
- Whole milk
So what should those without a gallbladder eat? If you’re wondering, replace the harmful ones above by eating low-fat, high-fiber foods. Increase your fiber slowly and start with soluble fiber like oats. You can also eat smaller meals more frequently.
Gallbladder Stone Treatment
You won’t need treatment for gallstones unless they cause pain. Sometimes you don’t even realize you have gallstones. If you have pain, your doctor will likely recommend surgery. In rare cases, medication may be used.
If you are at high risk for surgery, a drainage tube may be placed through the skin into the gallbladder. Your surgery may be postponed until your risk is reduced by treating your other medical conditions.