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Complications, Causes, Signs and Symptoms of Gallstones (Cholelithiasis)

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What are gallstones?

Gall stones are hardened, stone-like deposits of the digestive fluid (bile), that gets formed inside the gall bladder. You will get to know about complications of Gallstones, causes, signs and symptoms of gallstones, and all the other factors of gallstones in this article.
The gall stones may vary in-

Size: Gall stones can vary in size ranging from as tiny as a grain of sand to as large as a table tennis ball (about 4cm).

Number: it can be single or multiple

Location: it is typically found in the gall bladder (cholelithiasis) and sometimes in the bile duct (choledocholithiasis).

Gall stones many a time doesn’t produce any symptoms (80%) and lie dormant inside your gall bladder without your knowledge. They typically produce symptoms when they obstruct the flow of the bile out from your gall bladder and bile duct. check out the below image where you will get to know about causes, signs and symptoms of gallstones and its diagnosis and treatment also.

causes, signs and symptoms of gallstones and its diagnosis and treatment

What is a Gall bladder?

Gall bladder is a pear-shaped, sac-like structure that lies just underneath the liver on the right side of your upper abdomen.

The function of the gall bladder is to store the bile and release it when required. It does this with the help of its muscular walls which dilate or contract the gall bladder to store or release the bile according to the requirement.

The function of the bile is to help in the absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. It also helps in excreting the waste products of the liver (such as bilirubin) into the small intestine which are eventually excreted through stools. To get to know about signs and symptoms of gallstones, please read the complete article.

What forms Gallstones?

The bile is made up of bile salts, bile acids, phospholipids, bilirubin, and cholesterol. Don’t forget to read the signs and symptoms of gallstones to recognize it before.

Most of the stones- about 75% – are made up of cholesterol while the remaining are made of pigments- called pigment stones.

Excess of cholesterol in bile: when the cholesterol becomes excess in the bile, it is unable to keep the cholesterol in the dissolved state which leads to the formation of solid particles that form stones.

Excess of bilirubin in bile: an excess of bilirubin can also contribute to the formation of stones. This can be seen in conditions such as bile duct infection, cirrhosis, and some blood disorders.

Stasis of bile: stasis of the bile may lead to increased concentration of the bile that can also lead to the development of gall stones.

What can make you prone to develop gall stones?

The gall stones can develop in anyone at any age, however, it is much less common in children than in adults. There are a number of factors that can make you more prone to develop gallstones which are grouped as 7 F’s:

Fair (more common in caucasian population)

Fat (overweight or obesity is a strong risk factor, more so in females)

Female (2 times more common in females than in males)

of Forty or above (marked increase in risk in people above 40 years age)

eating Fatty (high fat and cholesterol) and low Fiber food

with Family history of gall stones

having a high amount of Female hormones (estrogen): conditions such as pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or birth control pills

Some specific diseases and condition that makes you more prone:

Cirrhosis: about 30% of cirrhotics develop gall stones.

• Infection of the bile duct

Blood disorders: such as sickle cell disease

• Metabolic syndrome


• Intestinal disease such as Crohn’s disease

• Medicines: long term use of Ceftriaxone (antibiotic), oral contraceptives, HRT, fenofibrate and others

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What are the signs and symptoms of gallstones (Cholelithiasis)?

Most of the people (about 60 to 80%) with gallstones don’t have any signs and symptoms of gallstones. However, their chances of developing signs and symptoms of gallstones every year increase at a rate of about 2 to 2.5% per year.

When signs and symptoms of gallstones occur, they typically occur due to obstruction caused by drainage of the bile. This occurs when the stone gets stuck in the gall bladder neck or the bile duct.

Following are the signs and symptoms of gallstones that may occur:

signs and symptoms of gallstones

Pain in abdomen: is the most common symptom. The pain has the following characteristic features, which are as follows:

• Continuous pain that occurs on the right side or center of the upper abdomen.

• Moderate to severe in intensity

• which may start with after meals

• is not affected by movement or position

lasts for 30 minutes to a day.

Other signs and symptoms of gallstones: may appear as symptoms of ingestion.

• Nausea

• Bloating of abdomen

• Burping or belching

• Passing gas

• Intolerance to fatty food

Additional signs and symptoms when the stone blocks the bile duct:

• Jaundice: skin and the whites of the eye become yellowish in color

• Itching all over the body

• Pale colored stools

• Dark (cola) colored stools

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How gallstones are diagnosed?

Well if you are facing any signs and symptoms of Gallstones the don’t worry, they are usually diagnosed by means of imaging tests. Some of the lab tests are also done to rule out the presence of any associated complications.

How gall stones are treated?

The gall stones are predominantly treated by means of surgery or procedures.

Gall stones without symptoms

Typically patients with no symptoms don’t require surgery except for the following cases:

What is the expected course of gall stones and what are the complications of gallstones?

You are at risk of developing complications whether you have any signs and symptoms of gallstones or not. This is more common if you already have any signs and symptoms of gallstones associated with it.

You are at a 2% to 3% risk of developing complications per year if you have gall stones but no symptoms. The risk increases significantly to about 70% for 2 years if you develop symptoms due to gall stones. When you have signs and symptoms of gallstones due to a stone in the bile duct you are at a 20 to 50% risk of developing complications in the next 6 to 12 months.

• Acute cholecystitis: here the gall stone causes a blockage to the outflow of the bile from the gall bladder which causes the development of swelling/infection. You may develop severe pain, increased blood counts, and fever.

• Blockage of the common bile duct: the smaller gallstones may come out and get lodged in the bile ducts causing blockage to the flow of the bile. This may lead to jaundice, severe pain, and bile duct infection.

• Pancreatitis: sometimes the gall stones may get lodged in the opening of the pancreatic duct leading to the backflow of the pancreatic juices into the pancreas. This in turn leads to the swelling of the pancreas (pancreatitis) which may lead to serious symptoms and complications requiring hospitalization.

• Gallbladder cancer: People having gallstones are at increased risk of developing gallbladder cancer. However, the risk is low.

Postcholecystectomy syndrome: this complication is not seen due to gall stones but after the surgery of the gall bladder. This is seen in up to 47% of people after surgery. People typically complain of gastrointestinal distress and right upper quadrant pain.

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