The small pear-shaped organ in the body which is located in the right abdomen below the liver is called gallbladder. What is the function of the gallbladder? Its main function is to store the bile that comes through the liver. This bile is in a liquid form and helps in digesting fats in the body. As fats don't dissolve in water, to emulsify fats, bile is produced by the liver and then stored in the gallbladder until the body is ready to digest fats. The gallbladder compresses and pushes the bile into the common bile duct which is tube that carries bile to the small intestine where it helps in the process of digestion. When this liquid or bile stored in the gallbladder starts to harden, it forms gallstones which are stone-like substances.
Gallstones are one of the most common ones amongst the other gallbladder diseases. There are two types of gallstones namely, pigment stones and cholesterol stones. Studies indicate that about 80 percent of them are found to be cholesterol stones which are primarily formed by hardening cholesterol and they appear to be yellow-green in color. Pigment stones are made of bilirubin and are usually small and dark in appearance. Gallstones including both the types, cholesterol and pigment stones could be of different size ranging from a small granule of sand to something as large as a small ball. Gallstones can move from the gallbladder and get stuck in the ducts or tubes that carry the bile produced in the liver to the small intestine. The bile stuck in these ducts can cause inflammation in the ducts, the gallbladder and sometimes also causes inflammation in the liver. Bile ducts blocked for a long time can cause severe infection in the liver and gallbladder. If the gallstones are undetected and the affected person does not get the treatment on time, it could lead to fatal conditions.
Causes and Symptoms of Gallstones
The major cause of gallstones is when high levels of cholesterol are secreted in the bile, as a result it reduces the chance for the gallbladder to empty and increases the chances of the accumulated cholesterol to harden and form gallstones. Some of the major causes of high levels of cholesterol secretion includes excess weight, age, high-cholesterol diet, rapid weight loss, diabetes and cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Gallstones are more significantly found in pregnant women, those who suddenly gain or lose weight, people over the age of 60, overweight or obese people, those with a family history of gallbladder stones and those suffering with diabetes. Those with gallstones could get gallbladder attacks which mostly occurs during the night and the person experiences a constant pain in the right side of the upper abdomen that could last anywhere from half an hour to several hours. Pain in the shoulder and shoulder blades are another sign of it. Those who show signs such as nausea/ vomiting, pale skin and yellowish color in the whites of the eye, fever and abdominal pain on the right side for a long time should immediately get the medical attention so as to get the treatment.
Gallstones Treatment Options
Treatment for gallstones includes both surgical and non-surgical treatment. However, the right diagnosis is essential to identify this gallbladder disease first. Ultrasound examination, Cholescintigraphy/ HIDA Scan, Computerized Tomography Scan/ CT Scan and blood tests are the tests that are performed on the person complaining of gallbladder stones to go for accurate diagnosis of the problem. In cases of gallstones where there are no symptoms, the physician recommends the patients to wait and look out for any symptoms and worsening condition in future. Painkillers are prescribed if the quality of the patient's life is not badly affected by this problem and if they only experience infrequent and mild symptoms.
Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: Gallbladder removal surgery is the most common way of treating gallstones. Although there are two types of surgery under cholecystectomy, laparoscopic cholecystectomy and open cholecystectomy, the most widely used surgery is laparoscopic cholecystectomy. In this type of surgery, the doctor/ surgeon makes four small incisions or cuts in abdomen wall, each of these cuts are of about 1 cm. Out of the four cuts, one is made at the navel area and the other three incisions are made across the upper abdomen. Through the incisions, the abdomen is inflated with carbon dioxide gas. The step is where the surgeon inserts laparoscope (a flexible small tube which has light and camera at one end of it) through one of the incisions. The images of the inside of the abdomen is transmitted to the television monitor through the camera and the surgeon then passes the required instruments through the laparoscope to remove the gallstones or gallbladder. The incisions are sealed after this extensive procedure. It is a fairly simple form of surgery where the patient does not require a long recovery time. Many a time, those who undergo this surgery can go back on the same or next day.
Open Cholecystectomy: Unlike laparoscopic cholecystectomy, it requires a long recovery time as the surgeon performs the usual form of surgery where one big incision is made across the abdomen to remove the gallstones or gallbladder. This type of treatment are only performed in cases where the person is obese, is in the last 3 months of pregnancy and in conditions like hemophilia.
One of the alternatives of gallstones treatment without surgery includes taking medication called ursodeoxycholic that helps in dissolving the gallstones. It is an oral medication, the course of which could last for as long as two years. Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is another procedure that is undertaken for gallbladder stone removal without removing the gallbladder. Here, the bile duct opening is widened by inserting the electrically heated wire thorough endoscope.
Gallstones natural treatment is another alternative that one could try at home. Some of the home remedies include taking peppermints and soaked almonds everyday and using herbs such as gold coin grass are also considered to be effective natural ways to treat gallstones. It may not technically fall into the category of gallstones treatment at home but, one could indeed try gallstone diets to get some relief from the gallstone pain.