How Are Gall Stones Formed?
In our digestive system, fat is digested with the help of bile juice. This juice is secreted by liver and stored in a pouch like organ of small size located under the liver. Gall bladder stores the bile juice and also concentrates it. As and when bile juice is needed for digestion gall bladder releases it to the digestive system. Sometimes, cholesterol is collected and transformed into stone like structures inside the gall bladder which is referred to as gall stones. It is common and treatment is not needed unless and until it presents with symptoms. It can be prevented only with proper dietary habits. These are the common ways in which gall stones are formed.
Though the exact cause for the formation of gallstones is not known, by analyzing the composition of gallstones, some theories explain the way gall stones are formed.1
Some of them are:
Presence of excess of cholesterol in the bile juice is one of the reasons. This forms yellow colored stones of cholesterol.
Usually the gall bladder is the storage organ of bile juice produced by liver. The concentration of the juice goes on increasing. Frequently, the bile contents should be emptied the failing of which may cause gall stones.
One of the major functions of liver is to destroy the old and worn out red blood cells. During this process, a pigment called bilirubin is released which is to be destroyed in the liver and gall bladder. In conditions like liver disorders or any damage of the liver or gall bladder, this bilirubin is collected and transformed in to dark brownish black gall stones sometimes called as pigment stones.
Before we discuss about how to prevent them, let us understand about the symptoms and complications of gall stones.
Signs and Symptoms of Presence of Gallstones
In most of the people, gallstones are not felt as it is asymptomatic and very common. It causes biliary colic when it blocks the bile ducts which helps in the secretion of bile juice to the digestive system. The pain is often sudden and acute. Also the pain may be for a few minutes or sometimes may last for 1 to 4 hours. Signs and symptoms if present would be as follows:
- Pain in the centre region of the tummy
- The region on the right side of the chest just below the ribs may also have pain
- Pain is triggered as soon as the individuals eat or may increase when foods rich in fat is consumed
- Pain can be in episodes
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain is not relieved even after egestion
- Dark colored urine
- Clay colored stools
Complications of Gallstones
Complications of the presence of gallstones arise as they interfere with the flow of bile juice blocking the bile duct or else if they move to some other neighboring organs like small intestine or pancreas.
Some of the common complications of gallstones include the following.2
- Loss of appetite
- Chills or even the individuals may have shivering episodes
- High temperature
- Increased heart beat
- Symptoms of jaundice (color of skin and sclera of eyes becoming yellow)
- Itchiness on the skin
- Infection in the gall bladder
- Inflammation of gall bladder
- Acute cholecystitis
- Spreading of abdominal pain to the shoulder blade
- Rarely, peritonitis (inflammation of abdomen due to tearing of gall bladder) may also occur
- Bile duct may also be infected which is referred to as acute cholangitis
- Acute pancreatitis may also be developed
- Gall bladder cancer may also develop as a complication of this which is very rare
- Gallstone ileus may also be expected as a complication when gallstones block small intestine. This is very rare but serious condition where internal bleeding also can occur.
Diagnosis of Gallstones
Diagnosis of gall stones is done in different ways to know the type and stage of gallstone formation. The following are some of the tests which help in diagnosis of gallstones.
- In the clinics, method usually followed by doctors is Murphy’s sign test to detect the inflammation of gallbladder.
- Blood tests are helpful to know about normal functioning of liver or for any infection.
- The doctors go for further tests like ultrasound scan if they find out any pain during Murphy’s sign test. This is a painless technique which gives the details of the inside organs of the body using sound waves of high frequency.
- Physician may advice for MRI scan to know the exact position of the gall stones in the duct.
- Cholangiography is one more precise technique which uses a dye to get the exact picture of presence of gall stones. Any blockages if detected during this examination would be removed with the help of an endoscope.
- One more technique is CT scan which is also followed to know about any complications of gall stones.
Treatment for Gallstones
Many times this condition is not at all symptomized if gallstones are present in gallbladder. They trouble only when present in large number or block the bile duct. The condition of the person may be some more serious if they are already suffering from portal hypertension, diabetes and/or liver cirrhosis.
- Treatment depends upon the kind of gallstone and the location.
- Just monitoring and follow ups at regular intervals will do if the condition is asymptomatic.
- Mild painkillers are given to subside the pain if the pain is mild and also if it is not frequent.
- Removal of gall bladder is the ultimate step if the condition is too serious or pain is too severe.
How To Prevent Gallstones?
It is important to prevent formation of gall stones rather than suffering. Some of the dietary factors which can help to prevent gallstones include the following.3
- Consuming a healthy diet
- Avoiding crash diet (a diet with very low calories)
- Avoiding fatty diet ( does not mean eliminating fat)
- Using olive oil
- Usage of sumptuous fibers in the diet
- Eating raw fruits and veggies
- Including lecithin rich foods in the diet like soybean, cabbage, oatmeal, eggs, mayonnaise, milk, peanuts
- Avoiding rapid weight loss
- Eliminating sugar and carbs as much as possible
- Doing exercises regularly
Though there is no clear picture about the causes of gallstones, according to some researchers, it is predicted that the gallstones are formed when there is an imbalance in chemical composition of the bile content. Females, obese people, aged people (usually above 40years of age), people who lost weight by dieting recently or by surgery, individuals suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) are more prone to gallstone formation. Sometimes the people who have family history of gallstones may also suffer from this condition. Now that you are aware of how gallstones are formed and how to prevent them, you can plan a healthy diet and lifestyle.
One can lead a normal life even after the removal of gall bladder as it is not an essential organ in the body. Simply by following nutrition chart provided by the nutritionist and avoiding spicy and fatty foods, the individuals can be healthy without any complications. Reducing weight gradually by following a healthy diet and regular exercises would be helpful in keeping away the complication of gallstones away help stay healthy.
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