Our gallbladder is a small organ right below the liver in the upper right abdomen. It is a small, pear-shaped organ that stores the green-yellow liquid bile.
Gall bladder stones or gall stones aren't something people worry about often. Many of us may not even know what they are. Our gallbladder is a small organ right below the liver in the upper right abdomen. It is a small, pear-shaped organ, as per MayoClinic. It stores bile, a green-yellow liquid that helps us with digestion, and gallstones can form when there's too much cholesterol in the bile, says Healthline. The size ranges from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball, as per MayoClinic. Some people develop one stone while others, multiple.
According to Harvard Health Publications, in 80% of cases, gallstones are made of cholesterol. However, the remaining 20% of gallstones are made of calcium salts and bilirubin. It is not known what causes them to form but there are some theories. One of them is too much cholesterol in the bile, the other being too much bilirubin in the bile or concentrated bile caused by a full gallbladder, as per Healthline. If our gallbladder doesn't empty, the bile becomes concentrated, which causes stones to form.
There are some risk factors that make us more susceptible to this condition. If you're a woman between the ages of 20 and 60, you're three times more likely to develop these than men, says the American College of Gastroenterology. The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted the institution as saying that the risk of women who have had multiple pregnancies, a family history of gallstones, are of Hispanic or Native American descent, are obese, or have experienced rapid weight loss, the chances increase.
There are some symptoms that can tell us if we have gallstones. If you experience nausea, vomiting, dark urine, clay-colored stools, stomach pain, burping, diarrhea, and indigestion, it could be because you have stones in your gall bladder.
Some people also have asymptomatic stones as they don't hurt by themselves. However, the pain occurs when the stones block the movement of bile from the gallbladder. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 80% of people have asymptomatic stones. In this case, the discovery happens when the doctor orders X-rays for another issue or during abdomen surgery.
The risk factors that make us susceptible to this condition are:
1. Being overweight or obese
2. Being female
3. Having cirrhosis
4. Eating a diet that’s high in fat or cholesterol or low in fiber
5. Being of Native American or Mexican-American descent
7. Having rapid weight loss in a short period of time
8. Having a family history of gallstones
9. Taking certain medications for lowering cholesterol
10. Having diabetes mellitus
11. Being 60 years or younger
12. Taking medications that have a high estrogen content
If it remains untreated, then it can cause complications. When the gallstone starts blocking the duct where the bile moves from the gallbladder it can lead to inflammation and infection in the area. This is known as acute cholecystitis and is a medical emergency. The chances of developing acute cholecystitis from symptomatic gallstones are 1 to 3%.
The symptoms from acute cholecystitis include:
1. Intense pain in the upper stomach or mid-right back
4. Appetite loss
5. Nausea and vomiting
Other issues include jaundice, cholecystitis, cholangitis, which is a bile duct infection, sepsis, which is a blood infection, pancreas inflammation, and gallbladder cancer.
However, if you think it's uncommon to get this issue, you'd be wrong since more than 25 million people in the United States have this condition, and 65% to 75% of them are women. Women are more likely to have gallstones because estrogen increases cholesterol in bile while progesterone slows the emptying of the gallbladder. This is why the chances of gallstones go down in women as they age. Women below the age of 40 get diagnosed with gallstones almost three times more often than men are but by age 60, the risk reduces slightly, as per Harvard Health Publications.