Gallstones are small deposits of cholesterol or calcium salts that form in the gallbladder, the small sac below the liver. These deposits form when the liquid in the gallbladder, known as bile, hardens into a stone-like material. Bile is made of water, cholesterol, fats, salts and proteins, but when there is too much cholesterol the liquid can harden into stones. Most gallstones are made from cholesterol, but some are made from bilirubin, a waste product of the gallbladder.
Many people do not experience any symptoms from gallstones and may not even know they have the condition. But other people may experience indigestion, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fever. Too much cholesterol is often a main cause of gallstones, but other factors can also contribute to this condition. Some of these factors include:
- Being female
- Family history
- High-fat diet
- Rapid weight loss
- Older age
Your doctor can diagnose gallstones through diagnostic imaging tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan or cholescintigraphy. Many cases are diagnosed when testing for other conditions. If not detected, gallstones can lead to blockage of the common bile duct, inflammation of the pancreas or cancer.
Treatment for gallstones depends on the severity of the condition and associated symptoms. If you do not experience any symptoms from gallstones, no treatment is necessary. For gallstones that cause frequent, painful symptoms, you may benefit from a cholecystectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder, which is not an essential organ. This procedure can often be performed laparoscopically in order to reduce scarring and recovery time. If surgery is not an option, your doctor may recommend bile salt tablets, sound wave therapy or topical gallstone dissolution. However, nonsurgical treatments are not usually effective in preventing the condition from recurring.
To learn more about our Gallbladder Disease Services, please contact us at (516) 627-5262 today to schedule an appointment.