What are Gallstones?

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that stores bile, a digestive fluid, made by your liver. Sometimes bile hardens, forming deposits called gallstones. They can be as tiny as a grain of sand or, in some cases, as big as a golf ball. Some people have just one stone while others develop multiple stones all at once.

Signs & Symptoms of Gallstones

Most people don’t have any symptoms from gallstones unless they get stuck moving from the gallbladder to the small intestine. Symptoms can last for minutes or hours. Call your doctor if you have sudden pain in your belly or chest. If you do notice symptoms, they could include:

  • Pain in your stomach or the upper right part of your abdomen which can reach to your right upper back or shoulder blade area.
  • You also might run a fever or experience nausea or vomiting.
  • Occasionally, patients develop jaundice due to blockage of the bile duct. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Gallstones

Your doctor will likely ask you questions about your pain and may order imaging tests to get a view of what’s happening inside your body. An ultrasound is the simplest way to find gallstones.

If an ultrasound doesn’t detect gallstones, but your doctor suspects a problem with your gallbladder, you may need a gallbladder scan. This test measures the ability of the gallbladder to contract and empty properly. A radio-nucleotide is injected into your vein and a machine takes images of your liver, gallbladder and intestines.

Mild discomfort during your first gallstone attack can usually be treated with medicine. Once symptoms develop, you should consider having your gallbladder removed.

Your digestive system will work fine without a gallbladder and most people do not notice a difference. Rather than being stored in the gallbladder, bile goes straight from your liver to your intestine.

Prevention of Gallstones

There is no surefire way to keep gallstones from forming. Most stones develop from abnormal composition of liver bile, and a gallbladder which no longer functions normally. 

There are some lifestyle changes you can make that might help lower your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is highly associated with gallstone formation. Also, avoid sudden or drastic changes in your weight. If you lose quickly and then gain the weight back, your risk for gallstones goes up. Try losing 1 to 1.5 pounds each week.
  • Eat well-rounded meals on a regular schedule. Think whole grains, fiber, calcium, leafy vegetables. Try to incorporate some healthy fat because that causes your gallbladder to empty, but stay away from saturated fat.
  • Exercise. This can help you stay at a healthy weight and also lower your cholesterol and triglyceride.

Talk to your Mercy doctor about developing an approach that works for you.

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