A Comprehensive Review on Gallstones


Hi guys! We are here to introduce another intriguing topic today. Guess what, it is about gallstones this time.

Some may wonder the origin of this term and what it is all about. Let's start from basic; we all know that we have a small organ in our body called gallbladder, which is situated just beneath our liver. This organ plays a pivotal role by storing bile, a digestive fluid that helps in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K. What happens when this bile gets hardened in the storing compartment, it solidifies forming gallstones. We have a fun fact for you guys, do you know that the size of a gallstone can range from as tiny as a grain of sand to as large as a tennis ball. Pretty crazy right, well that’s our body ladies and gentlemen.

Symptoms of Gallstones

Gallstones are pretty much common these days due to emerging sedentary lifestyles among the people. How and Why?? We shall talk about it in a minute. But, first things first, let's talk about the signs and symptoms of gallstone disease. Usually, gallstones do not cause any problems medically unless you experience symptoms.

Such symptoms include:-

  • Sudden increasing pain at the right upper abdomen

  • Sudden increasing pain at the centre of the abdomen

  • Pain at the tip of your right shoulder

  • Back pain between shoulder blades


Image from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/media/cr/204980.jpg

Image from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/media/cr/204980.jpg

Causes of Gallstones

We are sure some might be intrigued to know on how these gallstones appear and what causes them. As most medical conditions, there are no clear causes as to why gallstones form but medical practitioners have postulated reasoning to it. They believe that gallstones form when your bile contains too much of cholesterol. In normal circumstances, bile contains enough chemicals to disintegrate cholesterol eliminated by the liver. What happens if your body contains too much cholesterol, then there will be insufficient chemicals to dissolve cholesterol further resulting in residual cholesterol in the gallbladder forming crystals and eventually stones.

Besides that, there is also another belief that if your bile contains too much bilirubin then this can further potentiate the build up of crystals and eventually stones. To understand it better, bilirubin is a chemical that is produced when your body breaks down red blood cells. There are certain conditions that result in the liver producing too much of bilirubin including blood disorders, infections and liver diseases.

Risk Factors

Well, I guess this is too much information for you guys. We should cut the chase and talk about something more light and easy. We have another fun fact for you guys; doctors tend to remember the main risk factors for gallstones by remembering the ‘4 Fs’. What are they?


Image from: http://nursestips.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/PREDISPOSING-FACTOR-OF-CHOLELITHIASIS-AKA-GALLSTONES.png

Image from: http://nursestips.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/PREDISPOSING-FACTOR-OF-CHOLELITHIASIS-AKA-GALLSTONES.png


Let’s break them down further.

Female: Gallstones are more common among females as compared to males due to high levels of oestrogen, female hormone in their body.

Forty: Usually at forty, most women may experience premenopausal symptoms bringing on spikes of oestrogen levels in their body.

Fertile: Pregnant women are at high risk of getting gallstones because during pregnancy oestrogen levels are higher compared to non-pregnant women.

Fat: People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of developing gallstones due to high levels of cholesterol as explained above.

There are other less common risk factors as listed below: -

  • Strong family history of gallstones

  • Having diabetes

  • Consumption of cholesterol-lowering medications

  • Consumption of hormone therapy such as oestrogen replacement therapy

  • Losing weight quickly

  • Eating low fibre diet

The most important of all, just remember the ‘4 Fs’ to be on the safe side and to educate others about gallstones. It’s pretty simple right.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Gallstones

We anticipate the next question would be on how doctors diagnose gallstones and what they do next?

No one would know if they have gallstones in their body unless the symptoms appear. Sometimes, they might have gallstones but they do not experience any symptoms. If that’s the case, there is nothing to be worried about. As long as there are no symptoms, no medical attention is required.

Doctors normally carry out a set of tests not only to look at the presence of gallstones but also to find out other complications that comes along with it. A simple blood test will be done to look for infections, presence of jaundice (yellowing of skin) and other complications caused by gallstones.

The best way to diagnose gallstones is by doing an abdominal ultrasound. If a clearer picture is required, then a CT scan can be done. Treatment wise, for those without symptoms, no medical treatment is required. On the other hand, for those with symptoms, the only definitive treatment would be surgical removal of the gallbladder.

The treatment is pretty brutal right. Some might even say, ‘ How can we live without my gallbladder?’ Well, the truth is that you definitely can.

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, gallbladder only acts as a storage tank. If the storage tank has been removed, then the bile produced by the liver will directly flow to the small intestine. The removal of this small organ does not affect our ability to digest food in anyway, so do not be afraid. Once the gallbladder is out of the way, there is no chance of future gallstones to appear.

Prevention is better than Cure

At this point on, we are sure that none of you would want to be on a surgical table anytime soon. Of course, above all, prevention is definitely better than cure. There is no specific way that we can look into but probably a healthy balanced diet will help to prevent gallstones from forming.

According to experts, a healthy balanced diet consists of: -

  • Fruits and vegetables – try to consume 3 to 5 portions each day

  • Low-fat dairy products

  • Limit food high in saturated fats and sugars. Try to take unsaturated fats found in vegetable oil, nuts and seed instead of saturated fats like cheese, ghee, cakes and pastries.

  • Drink plenty of water at least 3 Litres a day.

Image from: http://d54l0avl6wb49.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/BalancedDiet-1.jpg

Image from: http://d54l0avl6wb49.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/BalancedDiet-1.jpg

We do understand that for those who have symptomless gallstones, they would want to have the problem out of the way without surgery. There is a medication called Ursodiol, which is used to disintegrate gallstones in this group of patients. It is best if you consult your doctor further on this because this is a prescribed medication and it is only used under certain circumstances.

We hope that we have enlightened you on gallstones for today. If you have any experience on this matter, please share with us at our Discussion Forum.

Emanuell Jesu Dass

by Emanuell Jesu Dass

A medical practitioner who's always seeking new opportunities to embrace life. Open to just about anything life throws at him, Emanuell is GetDoc's latest addition to the family and he's just waiting to give back! View all articles by Emanuell Jesu Dass.


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