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Definition

Gallstones are toughened deposits of digestive juices that can form in the gallbladder. Gallstones vary in size from as minute as a granule of sand to as huge as a golf ball. Some individuals develop just one gallstone, while others may develop several gallstones all at the same point in time.

Symptoms

Gallstones may cause no symptoms. If a gallstone is found in a duct and leads to blockage, symptoms may include:

  • Sudden and swiftly growing pain in the upper right section of the abdomen
  • Sudden and rapidly increasing pain in the center of the abdomen
  • Back pain between the shoulder blades
  • Right shoulder ache

Gallstone pain may last more than a few minutes to many hours

Risk Factors

Factors that may augment the risk of gallstones include:

  • Being female
  • Aged 60 or older
  • Overweight or obese
  • Pregnant
  • Intake of a high-fat diet
  • High-cholesterol and low-fiber diet
  • Family history
  • Being diabetic
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Being under medications that include estrogen, such as hormone therapy medicines

Diagnosis

  • Ultrasound, CT and MRI are done to generate images of the gallbladder
  • A test that uses a unique dye to highlight bile ducts on images may help the doctor verify if a gallstone is leading a blockage. Tests may include a HIDA scan, MRI or ERCP. Gallstones discovered using ERCP can be eliminated during the procedure.
  • Blood tests may disclose an infection jaundice, pancreatitis or other problems

Treatment

Gallstones that don't disclose any signs, such as those discovered during an ultrasound or CT scan done for some other condition, normally don't necessitate treatment.

The doctor may recommend being alert for symptoms of complications, such as increasing pain in the upper right abdomen. If gallstone signs and symptoms occur in the future, the patient can have treatment. But most people with gallstones that don't cause symptoms will never need treatment.

Medication

Oral medications may help dissolve gallstones. But it may take months or years of treatment to dissolve the gallstones in this way. Sometimes medications don't work. Medications for gallstones are not commonly prescribed and are reserved for those who cannot undergo surgery.

Surgery

Cholecystectomy: The doctor may recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder, since gallstones frequently recur. Once the gallbladder is removed, bile flows straight from the liver into the small intestine, rather than being stored in the gallbladder. We don't need the gallbladder to live, and gallbladder removal doesn't affect the ability to digest food, but it can cause diarrhea, which is usually temporary. Cholecystecomy is done using minimally invasive methods like laparascopy rather than open procedures.

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