What are Gallstones?
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that rests beneath the liver. Its main function is to collect and concentrate a digestive liquid (bile) produced by the liver. Bile is released from the gallbladder after eating and travels through a long tubular channels (bile duct) into the second part of the duodenum. Gallstones are small hard crystals primarily made of cholesterol and bile salts that form in the gallbladder or rarely in the bile duct. One in every 10 adults has gallstones and it is uncertain why some people form gallstones and there is no known means to prevent their formation. Some predisposing factors that have been found to be associated with gallstones are female gender, obesity, rapid weight loss, increasing age, multiple pregnancy and a family history of gallsontes.
What are the signs and symptoms of Gallstones?
Gallstones may block the flow of bile out of the gallbladder, causing it to swell and resulting in sharp abdominal pain (medically known as biliary colic), vomiting, indigestion and occasionally infection (medically known as cholecystitis).
If the gallstone escapes the gallbladder and blocks the bile duct, jaundice ( a yellowing of the skin) can occur. The blocked bile duct can lead to infection of the bile duct (medically known as cholangitis) and inflammation of the pancreas gland (medically known as pancreatitis)
How are Gallstones found and treated?
Ultrasound of the abdomen is most commonly used to find gallstones. In a few more complex cases, CT scan of the abdomen may be used to evaluate the gallbladder disease.
Gallstones do not go away on their own. Some can be temporarily managed with medications or by making dietary adjustments, such as reducing fat intake. This treatment has a low and short-term success rate. Symptoms will eventually continue unless the gallbladder is removed.
Surgical removal of the gallbladder including the gallstones is known as cholecystectomy. This is the safest and most effective way of treating symptomatic gallstones disease. Removing gallstones alone is far more dangerous than removing the entire gallbladder. Other methods of dissolving or blasting the gallstones also can lead to far more seripud complications.
The indications for cholecystectomy include gallstones related pain, indigestion and vomiting as well as their complications such as cholecystitis, cholangitis and pancreatitis. Incidental gallstones with no symptoms or prior complication do not require a cholecystectomy.
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