What are gallstones?

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Bile is produced in the liver and stored temporarily in the gallbladder to be used later for the emulsification of foods containing high fats in the digestion process. Bile juices contain several chemicals and substances like water, electrolytes and ions, fat molecules and bile pigments. At times, the composition ratio between the fats and bile pigments becomes unbalanced and leads to crystallization of these bile juices leading to formation of gallstone.

Gallstones can be either cholesterol stones, pigment stones or mixed stones which differ in colours and shapes. Having gallstones in your gallbladder leads to multiple complications such as the inflammation of the gallbladder and stones obstructing the biliary system.

 

Are you prone to have gallstones?

 

There are several risk factors that can lead to you having gallstones, age being one of the most common risk factors. Age above 40 years old is evidenced to be more prone to have gallstones. Women are also more likely to develop gallstones compared to men. The hormone estrogen and progesterone have vital roles in the production of gallstones.

Estrogen increases the composition of cholesterol in bile juices while progesterone slows the emptying of the gallbladder. Therefore, gallstones are also more likely to form during fertile and pregnancy periods. Apart from that, being obese or having BMI more than 30 kg/m₂, increases your risk of having gallstones.

 

How to know if you have gallstones?

 

Here, in this article, we will be discussing some pretty concerning symptoms of having gallstones that you might be experiencing.

  1. Abdominal pain

You may be experiencing pain over the right upper quadrant of your abdomen and sometimes radiating to the centre of your chest. Frequently, the pain is felt right after consuming food containing high amounts of fats. This is due to contraction of the gallbladder containing gallstones to release the temporarily stored bile juices for the digestion of fats.

Sometimes, the pain can be episodic and having pain free moments. This is popularly called as biliary colic. The reason behind this episodic pain is that the biliary duct being obstructed by the gallstones is trying to relieve the obstruction by alternately contracting and releasing the muscles around the duct.

  1. Jaundice

Jaundice is simply yellow discoloration of the skin and sclera (the whitish part in your eyes). Jaundice happens when there is overflow of jaundice in the blood vessels leading to its deposit under the skin making them look yellow. Sometimes, this can be associated with itchiness of the skin called pruritus. Jaundice can be caused by several factors originating from problems before the liver, in the liver and after the liver.

In cases where there is an obstruction in the biliary duct due to gallstones, the bile fails to get into the intestine and to be used for the digestion of fats. Thus, it will be channeled into the bloodstream causing jaundice. Obstructive jaundice are usually accompanied by tea coloured urine and pale stools too.

  1. Fever

 

Jaundice and abdominal pain are often associated with fever due to the inflammation of the gallbladder wall by the gallstones. It can also be due to colonisation of microorganisms like bacteria at the obstructed and inflamed area. These triad of symptoms are commonly called as Charcot’s Triad and are important in the diagnosis of acute cholecystitis and ascending cholangitis.

  1. Nausea & vomiting

 

Nausea and vomiting can be often mistaken caused by heartburn, acid reflux or gastritis. But if you are having nausea and vomiting frequently in an episodic pattern with your stomach ache, do book an appointment with a doctor as it can be a symptom of having gallstones although nausea and vomiting are non classical symptoms of gallstones.

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