What are Gallstones?
Gallstones form when liquid stored in the gallbladder hardens into pieces of stone-like material. Gallstones can block the normal flow of bile if they lodge in any ducts that carry bile from the liver to the small intestine. Fortunately, the gallbladder is an organ people can live without. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is the most common way to treat symptomatic gallstones. The surgery is called laparoscopic cholecystectomy and is done with small incisions to the abdomen and with a camera. The full recovery time is about a week.
Causes and Symptoms of Gallstones
Causes of Gallstones
- Obesity is a major risk factor for gallstones, especially in women. A large clinical study showed that being even moderately overweight increases the risk for developing gallstones. The most likely reason is that obesity tends to reduce the amount of bile salts in bile, resulting in more cholesterol. Obesity also decreases gallbladder emptying.
- Excess estrogen from pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, or birth control pills appears to increase cholesterol levels in bile and decrease gallbladder movement, both of which can lead to gallstones.
- Ethnicity is related factor. Native Americans have a genetic predisposition to secrete high levels of cholesterol in bile. In fact, they have the highest rate of gallstones in the United States. A majority of Native American men have gallstones by age 60. Among the Pima Indians of Arizona, 70 percent of women have gallstones by age 30. Mexican American men and women of all ages also have high rates of gallstones.
- Gender can be a risk factor. Women between 20 and 60 years of age are twice as likely to develop gallstones as men.
- Age may be a risk factor. People over age 60 are more likely to develop gallstones.
- Drugs that lower cholesterol levels in blood actually increase the amount of cholesterol secreted in bile.
- Diabetes is often a risk factor. People with diabetes generally have high levels of fatty acids called triglycerides. These fatty acids increase the risk of gallstones.
- Rapid weight loss may cause the liver to secrete extra cholesterol into bile.
- Fasting decreases gallbladder movement, causing the bile to become over concentrated with cholesterol.
Symptoms of Gallstones may include:
- Steady pain in the upper abdomen that increases rapidly and lasts from 30 minutes to several hours
- Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
- Pain under the right shoulder
- Nausea or vomiting
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