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Gallstones are not stones. Instead, they are pebble-like solid pieces of digestive fluid that form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped pouch, found just beneath the liver, on the right side of the abdomen. The small organ stores digestive fluid called bile that flows from the liver to your small intestine.
The salt in the bile helps digest fat easily. It also contains waste products, such as cholesterol and bilirubin. When either of the waste products begins to cluster together as a solid lump, the result is the formation of gallstones. The size of the gallstones may be as large as a golf ball, or as small as a pearl.
Two main types of gallstones that can form in the gallbladder include:
These are the most common types accounting for 80% of gallstones in the US citizens. The cholesterol gallstones are yellowish-green in color. They mainly comprise un-dissolved cholesterol, but may also contain other components.
Pigment gallstones are smaller and dark brown or black. When there is excessive amount of bilirubin in the bile, it forms pigment gallstones.
Gallstones often cause no signs or symptoms. The patient might not be aware of a gallstone’s existence unless a doctor diagnoses it. Nearly 20% of American adults may have gallstones, yet only around three percent of them develop any symptoms.
The symptoms start to appear when a gallstone lodges into a duct, causing a blockage. Hence, you feel excruciating pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. The pain may last from a few minutes to a few hours, or may come back in episodes, referred to as an “attack.”
You might experience pain in:
Or other signs like:
Many reasons may cause you to have gallstones, including your weight, genes, diet, and gallbladder issues.
Certain factors make people susceptible to gallbladder issues, especially gallstones. The people who are at risk include:
Silent gallstones usually don’t require any treatment. For the diagnosis, the doctor may draw a blood sample, recommend an ultrasound, endoscopy, or CT scan. However, if the symptoms appear, the patient may have to get the gallbladder removed through surgery.
Cholecystectomy is a common procedure for gallbladder removal. The surgeon makes incisions in the abdomen and passes the surgical instruments, a light, and a camera for images, through the cuts. The doctor monitors the video and removes the gallbladder safely. After the surgery, the bile flows from your liver to the intestine directly. The patient may go home the same day following the surgery.
In open cholecystectomy, the doctor has to make bigger cuts to remove the gallbladder. Hence, the patient may have to stay in the hospital for a few days.
If surgery is not the best option for you because of your medical condition, then oral medications may help dissolve the gallstones. The doctor may prescribe Ursodiol (Actigall, Urso 250, Urso Forte), Chenodiol (Chenodol), or both. However, the process may take months or years. Thus, the gallstones may form again if the patient does not take the medication regularly.
Removing a gallbladder has no harmful effects on your digestion ability, and you can survive without a gallbladder. Our dedicated team of surgeons at Lenox Hill Surgeons uses the cutting edge technology and current procedures for a safe removal of the gallbladder. Contact us today if you have any of the symptoms stated above.