The Gallbladder is a small pouch that lies under the liver. It is located in the right upper side of the abdomen underneath the ribs. Its main function is to store bile, a fluid made by the liver to break down fats and oil that has been consumed. After a meal, the Gallbladder contracts and empties its bile into the small intestine. The bile in the small intestine helps to digest fats and oil in the food. The Gallbladder therefore acts as a reservoir or storeroom for the bile that is not being used by the body.
What are Gallstones?
Gallbladder stones or Gallstones are usually made of either cholesterol or bile. They form when the bile gets so concentrated that they start forming solid particles like sand. If this continues under many years, these small solid particles grow to form stones. Most of the time, they do not cause symptoms and no further intervention is required. But once stones are detected, Dr Ganesh believes that it is a sign to change your lifestyle like hydrating well or consuming less cholesterol.
What are symptoms of Gallstones?
As mentioned previously, most of the time, there are no symptoms. If there is sudden, sharp abdominal discomfort that is felt in the middle of the abdomen or the upper right-hand side, gallstones may be one of include the causes. This is especially so if the pain lasts for a few hours.
Other symptoms include:
What causes Gallstones?
Once gallstones are detected, Dr Ganesh advises to check your blood cholesterol. When cholesterol levels in the blood is above normal levels, this excess cholesterol condenses and becomes solid particles. Over many years, these particles form stones. Reducing dietary cholesterol or even medication can help reduce the progression of these stones. Another cause of gallstones is dehydration where gallstones result from the super saturation of bile salts to eventually form stones. Keeping yourself well hydrated can prevent these stones.
What places you at risk of Gallstones?
Dietary and lifestyle factors are a cause of gallstones. You may be at risk of gallstones if you:
Other factors that may predispose the formation of gallstones are:
How are gallstones diagnosed?
Dr Ganesh Ramalingam will assess you with a detailed history and a thorough physical examination. If there is a suspicion of gallstones, you may be scheduled for diagnostic test like blood tests and an ultrasound scan. Blood tests can look for an infection or other conditions such as pancreatitis and jaundice which is caused by gallstones. Ultrasound scan is the best first line scan to diagnose gallstones. An MRI may also be ordered if there are any doubts about the ultrasound results. ERCP or Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatogram or Cholangiogram for short is performed by using a dye that shows up on X-rays. The dye is injected using an endoscope that goes through the mouth and to the small intestines where the bile duct opens into it.
After this, X-ray images are taken. If your gallbladder and bile systems are not blocked or having a lump in them (either a stone or growth), they will look smooth and normal. If a blockage has been detected, the ERCP can help remove the blockage.
Does Gallstones need surgery?
Dr Ganesh recommends gallbladder removal surgery if there are symptoms caused by the gallstones. Gallstones may move out of the gallbladder and block the bile ducts which prevents the bile from flowing form the gallbladder or liver to the small intestine. This condition, known as choledocholithiasis can cause severe pain, jaundice and infection of the gallbladder. If the symptoms are severe they may require early medical attention. Gallstones may also block the pancreatic duct which is a tube between the pancreas and the common bile duct before joining the small intestine. This may cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. It is a serious condition that causes severe and continuous abdominal pain, that will need hospitalization, Intravenous fluids and sometimes antibiotics.