Gallstones are stones that are formed in the gallbladder. The presence of gallstones or disease caused by gallstones can also be referred to as cholelithiasis. Most individuals with gallstones will not experience any symptoms. The risk factors for gallstones include the use of oral contraceptive pills, positive family history of gallstones, pregnancy, diabetes, liver disease, obesity, and rapid weight loss. The components that form gallstones are bilirubin, cholesterol, and bile salts. Gallstones formed mostly from bilirubin are known as pigment stones while those formed from cholesterol are called cholesterol stones. The diagnosis of gallstones can be achieved through medical imaging. To reduce the risk of gallstones, it is recommended that individuals maintain a healthy weight through a good diet and regular exercise.
Treatment is not necessary for those without symptoms. For those with gallbladder attacks, surgery to remove the stones are recommended. This can be done under general anesthesia as an open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. If surgery is not possible, medication can be used to attempt to dissolve the stones. Lithotripsy is also a viable solution to break down the stones. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of adults in the developed world have gallstones. However, in many parts of Africa, the rates of gallstones can be as low as 3%. In the year 2013, it was found that gallbladder and biliary related conditions is seen in 104 million individuals which led to 106,000 deaths. Women are more likely to have stones compared to men. Gallstones are also more commonly seen in those above the age of 40. Some ethnic groups are also more likely to have gallstones. One good example is the Native Americans where 48% were observed to have it.
Symptom #1: Abdominal Pain
Patients with gallstones that obstruct the flow of bile can experience a gallbladder attack where there is abdominal pain. The pain is often felt in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen and may radiate to the back and up the shoulder blade.
The pain can also eventually radiate to involve the entire abdomen. Patients often describe this pain as waxing and waning as it comes in waves during the attack. Some have reported that the gallstone attacks to last about 15 minutes while others say the pain can linger for hours and disrupt sleep.