Gallstones can be defined as hard deposits that resemble pebble. They form inside the gallbladder. There may be one bigger or several smaller gallstones. They may differ according to the mineral they contain most, are associated with some health problems and carry risk of certain complications.
Clinical Characteristics of Gallstones
In some people gallstones are asymptomatic and may be accidentally found during ultrasound of the abdomen or X-ray which are performed in other purposes. Some gallstones are visible on ultrasound and cannot be identified with X-ray while others can be only confirmed with X-ray. This depends on their structure.
If there are symptoms and signs of gallstones, these include pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. Such pain tends to radiate toward the ipsilateral shoulder blade. Pain develops after heavy meals containing lots of fats, lasts from 15 minutes to 24 hours or even longer and may prevent a person from taking normal or deep breaths. Furthermore, patients suffering from gallstones may additionally complain about heartburn, nausea and vomiting. If one of these stones moves from the gallbladder, it may clog bile ducts and cause even more problems.
Types of Gallstones
Gallstones are made of cholesterol or other substances. Cholesterol gallstones develop due to accumulation of cholesterol and bilirubin, especially if there is not enough bile salts. They also affect people in whom the gallbladder does not empty properly during digestion. On the other hand, pigment stones are made of bilirubin and calcium salts. And finally, some people develop mixed stones. These contain different minerals such as calcium carbonate, palmitate phosphate, bilirubin etc.
Prevention of Gallstones
Even though in many people gallstones eventually occur in spite of their healthy lifestyles, it may be possible to decrease the chance of gallstones. However, complete prevention is simply impossible.
The first thing each person must do is maintain a healthy weight. Gallstones most commonly affect obese people. The explanation is quite simple. Such people consume a lot of fat, therefore their level of cholesterol in blood is rather high which increases gallstone formation. Even normal weight people people with increased cholesterol levels are at risk for gallstones. This points to the fact that maintaining cholesterol levels is another way to prevent gallstones. Even exercising may prevent gallstones. The effects of exercises include reduction of total cholesterol in blood. Some experts believe that estrogen replacement therapy may contribute to gallstones. By not prescribing such treatment, formation of gallstones may be prevented.
And finally, one should increase intake of fiber, fruits and vegetables as well as nuts while certain foods such as sugar should be limited if not completely eliminated. Alcohol and coffee may be consumed only moderately.