Having gallstones, a condition called cholelithiasis, is common among Americans. It affects about 25 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The majority of people who have gallstones experience no symptoms. For these people, their “silent gallstones” may be discovered in X-rays or during surgery. For others, however, gallstones bring great pain, typically in the upper right abdomen area or in the back.
What Are Gallstones and Why Do They Form?
Your gallbladder is a small pouch-like organ located in your upper right abdomen just below your liver. It stores a liquid called bile that aids digestion. If there’s too much cholesterol (the leading cause of gallstone formation) in the bile, it will be harder for the gallbladder to empty, which could lead to the formation of hardened deposits within the gallbladder called gallstones.
There are two different types of gallstones: cholesterol gallstones and pigment gallstones. Cholesterol stones are the most common and are usually yellow-green in color. Pigment stones are smaller and darker stones made up of bilirubin.
Gallstone Risk Factors
There are many risk factors that are within your control, so it is possible to reduce your risk of developing gallstones.
You are at risk of developing gallstones if you:
- Have a family history of gallstones
- Are overweight or obese
- Are diabetic
- Eat high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber foods
- Take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy drugs
- Take cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Are pregnant
- Lost a drastic amount of weight rapidly
- Regularly fast
Left untreated, gallstones can lead to:
- Gallbladder infection
- Cholangitis or bile duct infection
- Sepsis or blood infection
- Inflamed pancreas
- Cancer of the gallbladder
In rare cases, gallstones may go away on their own – but they typically don’t.
Many people with gallstones go about their daily lives without any symptoms and require no treatment. However, once gallstone pain symptoms occur, it requires medical or surgical intervention.
If you are experiencing pain from gallstones or suspect that you have gallstones, consult a doctor before it progresses to infection or cancer. Your doctor will diagnose you by reviewing your medical history, conducting a physical examination, and prescribing imaging tests or an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). If you undergo an ERCP and gallstones are discovered during the procedure, they can also be removed during the procedure to alleviate your symptoms. Blood tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
Treatment may include medications to dissolve the gallstones or surgery to remove the gallbladder, a procedure called a cholecystectomy. The latter is often recommended because gallstones tend to recur, and surgery is a much more reliable and effective treatment. It is possible to live without a gallbladder.
A minimally invasive laparoscopic cholecystectomy allows gallbladder removal through several small incisions rather than one large cut in a more traditional “open” surgery. With a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, you can usually head home on the same day.
Gallbladder Removal Surgery in Pennsylvania
Carlisle Digestive Disease Associates is one of central Pennsylvania’s finest gastroenterology medical practices, with more than 25 years of experience caring for patients in the community, using state-of-the-art endoscopic equipment and providing compassionate care.
If you have gallstone issues or want to know more about gallbladder removal surgery (laparoscopic cholecystectomy), contact us at (717) 245-2228 or use our request an appointment form.