What are Gallstones?

The gallbladder is a small bag shaped organ just below the liver which stores bile - a green fluid produced by the liver to help the body digest fats. When we eat fat, bile is released through the bile duct. The gallbladder is not an essential organ and the body is perfectly able to digest fatty food without it.

Gallstones are solid lumps or "stones" which form in the gallbladder or bile duct, when some of the chemicals stored there harden into a mass. It is possible to get either one large stone or several smaller ones. Sometimes there are no stones, but rather a muddy sludge deposit in the gallbladder. Gallstone formation is often related to the amount of fat you eat in your diet.

Gallstones are formed when the usual balance of the bile substances is upset. There are 2 main types of gallstones:

  • Cholesterol stones – caused by too much cholesterol in the bile. These are the most common type of gallstone and account for 80% of cases. 
  • Pigment stones – caused by an excess of bilrubin (a digestive pigment produced by the liver).

Who gets Gallstones?

There are certain common factors which contribute to getting gallstones, including increasing age, gender (women are more at risk), being overweight or rapid weight loss, stomach surgery and  certain medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, Crohn’s disease, liver disease).

What problems do Gallstones cause?

Whilst gallstones are very common and often cause no symptoms at all for many people, they can cause pain if the gallstone blocks the outlet from the gallbladder. This can last minutes or hours and can be frightening as the pain can travel to the right shoulder, leaving people to fear a heart attack. Attacks are not frequent, and if they reoccur, they could be weeks or even years apart.

Other problems associated with gallstones are pancreatitis, jaundice, infection of the bile duct or other gut problems including possible gall bladder cancer.

How are Gallstones treated?

Less invasively, a low fat diet may help to reduce the pain due to gallstones. Unfortunately there are no drugs available which are reliably able to reduce symptoms in the long term.

The best method to reduce symptoms is the surgical removal of the gallbladder; if only the stones are removed, new ones will reform. The operation is done via keyhole laparoscopic surgery for most people, although there is a small (2%) risk that you may need to have an “open” operation if your surgeon encounters problems whilst operating. All the risks are discussed with patients beforehand.

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The Specialist Medical Clinic Marbella Veins Clinic Marbella