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Gallstones

  • What are Gallstones?

    Gallstones are small stone-like materials found in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small sac that contains the bile, which is the digestive fluid produced by the liver to break down and digest fats.

    Gallstones are made of hardened bile. The bile is made up of cholesterol, water, fats, bile salts and bilirubin (red blood cells waste product). If the bile contains high levels of cholesterol, bilirubin or bile salts, it becomes less aqueous and therefore hardens into stones.

    Gallstones can be present as one large gallstone, the size of a golf ball, or as little stones, or even a combination of both. There are two types of gallstones:

    • Cholesterol Stones which are the most common type
    • Pigment Stones which are formed when there is high level of bilirubin in the system

    You may have mixed stones, both Cholesterol Stones and Pigment Stones.

  • Gallstones are caused by an imbalance in the bile components.

    Cholesterol gallstones are caused by increased levels of cholesterol and bilirubin in the bile, as well as reduced levels of bile salts.

    Pigment stones tend to occur in people who suffer from Liver Cirrhosis, infection of the biliary tract, and genetic blood disorders.

    There are also other reasons that trigger the formation of Gallstones, and these include:

    • Cholesterol-reducing drugs which lowers the cholesterol levels in the blood but in the meantime lead to increased secretion of cholesterol in the bile
    • Diabetes
    • Excess oestrogen levels
    • Fasting
    • Gender – Women aged between 20 and 60 years are more prone to Gallstones formation than men
    • Increasing age (>60 years)
    • Obesity which can leads to high levels of cholesterol in the bile
    • Rapid weight loss

    The mere presence of Gallstones is believed to initiate the formation of more Gallstones

  • The symptoms of Gallstones depend on the size, severity and location of your Gallstones, and they include:

    • Abdominal bloating
    • Burping
    • Clay-coloured stools
    • Fever and chills
    • Indigestion
    • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Sharp pain in the upper abdomen

    The symptoms of gallstones usually occur after having a fatty meal, and at night. Some people though don’t show any symptoms. They are said to have silent stones, and these stones do not affect the gallbladder, liver or pancreas function.

  • The treatment of Gallstones depends on your age and your general health. Your doctor will recommend the suitable treatment for your specific condition. The Gallstones can be left untreated, or they can be removed using the following methods:

    • Cholecystectomy, which is the surgical removal of the gallbladder
    • Medication to dissolve small Gallstones
    • Sphincterotomy, which involves cutting the sphincter (the muscle between the common bile duct and the duodenum) to allow better access to the common bile duct (the bile duct is the tube that carries bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines)
    • Acute or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder (Cholecystitis)
    • Gangrene of the gallbladder
    • Infection of the common bile duct (Cholangitis)
    • Inflammation of the pancreas (Pancreatitis)
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