Gallstones aren’t really stones but are pieces of material, usually made from cholesterol, that form in the gallbladder. In most cases gallstones don’t cause any symptoms and don’t need to be treated, however in some cases, they can become very painful and require treatment or an operation to remove the gallbladder.
What is the gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small organ below the liver. It helps to digest fats from food by storing bile, a liquid produced by the liver to digest fat, and sending it to the small intestine when food arrives.
What causes gallstones?
There is no clear reason for the formation of gallstones, they are believed to form due to a high concentration of cholesterol in the bile, in which the excess cholesterol forms into stones. There are a number of factors that may put you more at risk to gallstones:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Women are more prone to gallstones than men.
- People aged 40 or over are more at risk.
What are the symptoms?
There often aren’t any symptoms of gallstones, but if the gallstone blocks a bile duct it can cause severe abdominal pain that can last up to five hours.
The pain is usually felt in the centre of the stomach, or below the ribs on the right-hand-side of the body. It can even spread to the shoulder blade.
The pain can be triggered by eating fatty foods, but can occur at any time of the day or night, and is not relieved by going to the toilet or being sick.
Gallstones may also cause excessive sweating and nausea in some.
Treatments for gallstones
If the gallstones are causing symptoms, they may be required to have surgery to remove the gallbladder.
The gallbladder is not an essential organ, and people can lead a normal life without one.
To remove the gallbladder, the patient will need to go through laparoscopic surgery (keyhole surgery) to remove the gallbladder. Three to four cuts are made in the abdomen, and the gallbladder is located and removed by using a laparoscope and other specialist surgical equipment.
For more information about gallstones, or to make an appointment with a specialist, make an appointment here.