Gallstones are crystal-like deposits that
develop in the gallbladder. The function of the gallbladder is to store bile,
a digestive juice produced by the liver. Bile is required to digest a fatty
meal. Gallstones are very common, and affect 20% of the world population.
- Gallstones form because of an imbalance
in the components in the bile, which interferes with the dissolving capacity
of the bile salts.
- Delays or incomplete emptying the gallbladder,
as in pregnancy, is another factor in the formation of gallstones.
- A chronic infection in the bile may also
contribute to gallstone formation.
- Excessive fat in the diet can cause the
liver to produce more cholesterol than the bile acids are able to handle.
As a result, the excess cholesterol begins to solidify into crystals, forming
- A diet deprived of fat, may also cause
gallstones. Because the gallbladder is called into play less frequently the
cholesterol has more time to solidify.
- Cirrhosis, using oral contraceptives and
pregnancy are also contributing factors.
are the symptoms of gallstones?
Over a period of five years, approximately
10% of people with stones will develop symptoms. Symptoms only occur when there
is a temporary obstruction of the outflow tract of the gallbladder, by a stone.
When such obstruction occurs, you might experience the following:
- Pain, which can wake the sufferer from
- Pain felt in the middle and upper right
abdomen, and may travel to the right shoulder, back or neck.
- Pain subsides gradually, but could last
- Pain inducing nausea and vomiting.
- Sufferer may develop fatty food intolerance.
- Recurring indigestion.
are gallstones treated?
Many of those with gallstones may never realise
that they have them. Investigations such as Ultrasound examination or x-ray
of the Gall Bladder will demonstrate the stones.
Those who experience frequent attacks of
painful inflammation or infection as a result of the stones may be advised to
have a cholecystectomy (Gall Bladder removal). This may be performed conventionally
or by "key-hole " surgery where the surgeon uses a small telescope
through a small incision in the right upper abdomen to remove the offending
stones and gall bladder. This results in shorter hospitalisation and convalescence.
The use of shock waves has also proven very successful - gallstones are fragmented
by shock waves delivered through water.
I prevent gallstones?
- A sensible diet is the best way forward,
with plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and bran.
- Avoid dramatically increasing or decreasing
your intake of fat.
- Consume a moderate level of olive oil.
- Lecithin can prevent gallstones by keeping
cholesterol from solidifying in the gallbladder. Lecithin is found in mayonnaise,
yoghurt, eggs, milk, peanuts.
does the future look?
- Educate yourself on the symptoms, preventative
measures and causes. Generally the more you know about your condition, the
better able you are to cope with it.
- Surgery has proven very successful.
- Contact your doctor if the symptoms persist.
It is important to rule out the possibility of other diseases.
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