Your gallbladder is a small sac located under your liver, which your body uses to store bile. Bile is a substance created by the liver which helps your body process and digest fats. Bile moves from the gallbladder to the small intestine, where is it used the digestive process.
As your body works to create and use bile, gallstones may be formed. Gallstones are basically hard, round collections of organic materials which get formed in the gallbladder. The body may produce gallstones from cholesterol and other substances which are found in the gallbladder.
Many people who have gallstones may not develop any symptoms. Gallstones can range widely in size, from very small stones that are barely visible, to gallstones as large as a gold ball. However, for those who do develop symptoms of gallstones, medical treatment is necessary.
A common problem caused by gallstones is blocking the ducts which allow bile to flow from your gallbladder to your small intestine. The symptoms of these problematic gallstones can include pain in the belly, as well as potentially pain in the upper back and shoulder regions. When duct blockage persists, you can develop fever and chills, and your skin and eyes may become yellowed. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should contact your local gastroenterologist immediately.
When you visit your doctor, he or she may ask questions about your diet and lifestyle. Patients who are overweight, and especially those who are attempting rapid weight loss, are at a higher risk of gallstones. Your doctor may also order tests such as an ultrasound or X-Ray. These tests will help determine if you have gallstones, or potentially other gastrointestinal issues.
If you are diagnosed with gallstones, be aware that you’re not alone. Up to 10% of men and 20% of women will develop gallstones at some point in their lives. For those who are experiencing serious symptoms of gallstones, a common treatment is the surgical removal of the gallbladder. This is generally a fairly routine and very safe procedure – in fact, removing the gallbladder is considered one of the safest of all surgeries.
If you are not a good candidate for gallbladder removal, there are some nonsurgical treatments available as well. Some gallstones can be dissolved using bile salt, using a medication called Actigall (ursodiol). In other cases, your doctor may suggest shock wave therapy, which involves using high-frequency sound to fragment the gallstones, allowing the smaller fragments to then be dissolved using bile salt. A further nonsurgical treatment for gallstones is called contact dissolution, in which your doctor inserts a catheter into your abdomen, and uses this catheter to inject a drug directly into your gallbladder. However, all of these nonsurgical treatments are rarely used, because none can prevent the recurrence of gallstones. For most people with serious gallstone issues, removing the gallbladder is the best option.
If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be the result of gallstones, it is important to contact your local gastroenterologist as soon as possible. While gallstones are common and treatment options can be very effective, it’s important not to ignore potential gastrointestinal issue. The faster you seek medical treatment, the quicker your recovery will be.
If you’re located in the Texas DFW area, the team at Arlington Gastroenterology Services can help with any gallstone concerns you may have. Our experienced doctors have been treating gallstones and other related conditions for many years.