Information on the causes and symptoms of gallstones.
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- What Are Gallstones?
- Diagnosing Gallstones
- What Causes Gallstones?
- Help for Gallstones
- More Information about Gallstones
What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are hard, rock-like substances that can form in the gallbladder and create severe pain, sometimes requiring surgical removal. One in five women and eight out of 100 men over age 40 have gallstones.
Gallstones are made of four types of substances. Most are considered to be mixed stones, which contain cholesterol, bile salts, calcium and other compounds. They form in the gallbladder and can lodge in the common bile duct, causing symptoms.
Gallstones can cause nausea, vomiting, pain, yellowing of the skin, gas and bloating. The pain can be felt under the right upper rib cage or in the back. Symptoms are worse after eating fatty foods.
Sometimes gallbladder pain resembles the pain of a heart attack. If you have severe abdominal or chest pain, seek emergency medical help immediately.
Gallstones may be asymptomatic, and are more easily prevented than treated. Pain and symptoms are often intermittent and come in clusters.
Diagnosis is confirmed by the taking of a medical history, x-rays, ultrasound and blood tests. The abdominal ultrasound provides a definitive diagnosis.
What Causes Gallstones?
Women are most susceptible to gallstones; however, men get them as well.
A high fat, typical western diet sets the perfect stage for the development of gallstones. Pregnancy and the use of oral contraceptives increase risk factors for development of gallstones, as does obesity and a high cholesterol diet, while genetics plays a minor role. Native American women have an elevated risk of developing gallstones.
People who have illnesses that interfere with absorption within the digestive tract are at risk. Presence of Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis can increase the likelihood of developing gallstones, and some studies indicate that drugs used to reduce cholesterol levels may increase the risk of developing gallstones. Other factors include increasing age and alcoholic cirrhosis.
Help for Gallstones
Conventional practitioners almost always recommend surgery and a low fat diet if symptoms are present. In most cases, surgery can be performed laparoscopy. Sometimes the surgery has to be done on an emergency basis if infection or total blockage of the bile duct occurs. Minor symptoms such as gas, indigestion and bloating after eating can be controlled with healthy lifestyle habits. They can help promote the flow of bile and enhance the health of the hepatic and digestive tracts.
Gallstones may be left untreated if they are not causing symptoms. For people who do not have symptoms, yet have stones, they can follow the same treatment recommendations that people who have symptomatic gallbladder complaints do in order to prevent future health problems.
Additional Information about Gallstones
Dietary recommendations that aid reduction of gallstone development and symptoms include increasing fiber intake and lowering fat intake. Legumes are a high fiber food that should be eliminated, however. All other sources of vegetable protein protect against gallstones. A vegetarian diet reduces the risk of developing gallstones. People with food allergies may experience gallbladder distress, so it is important to eliminate foods that cause symptoms. Coffee should be eliminated as it causes spasms of the gallbladder, and sugar and calories should be minimized.
There is a “natural treatment” that has been promoted as a treatment for gallstones. It consists of consuming large amounts of olive oil and lemon juice. Do not do it! It causes contractions within the gallbladder. Emergency surgery may be needed. Be sure to get adequate amounts of vitamin C and E via your diet or through supplementation. A lack of either vitamin can be a risk factor for gallstone development. Also, drink plenty of fluids daily.
Avoid long periods of sunbathing. The combination of UV radiation with cholesterol and bile salts can markedly increase your risk of gallstone development. Be sure to protect your skin from the sun for multiple other health reasons as well. Gallstones are fairly common. Incorporate the strategies above to reduce minor symptoms and prevent gallstone development. With early intervention, gallstones are preventable. If gallstones are already present, the need for surgery can be minimized.