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What are Gallstones?

The gallbladder is a small organ located on the right side of the abdomen, under the liver that stores digestive fluid known as bile. Gallstones are hard deposits of digestive fluid that can form in the gallbladder or bile ducts. These stones can range in size from very small to the size of a golf ball.

Gallstones are generally categorized into the following groups:

Cholesterol gallstones: These are the most common form of gallstone and appear yellow in coloring. They are made up of undissolved cholesterol, but may also contain other materials.

Pigment gallstones: These are dark brown or black gallstones that form when your bile contains too much bilirubin.

Some individuals may not experience any gallstone symptoms, while others may experience the following:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen.
  • Associated pain under the right shoulder or between the shoulder blades.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dark urine.
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

There are many different reasons why gallstones develop. Sometimes, they are caused when the gallbladder does not completely empty itself of bile, or there is a high concentration of cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile. Other times, they are the result of cirrhosis of the liver, certain blood disorders, pregnancy or rapid weight loss. Certain individuals may also be at a higher risk for developing gallstones, including females, those who are 60 years or older or those who have a family history of gallstones.

How are Gallstones Diagnosed?

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with gallstones, your doctor will perform a physical exam to look for jaundice. He or she may also recommend diagnostic tests such as ultrasound, an abdominal CT scan, a gallbladder radionuclide scan, an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) or blood tests to make a proper diagnosis. If gallstones are detected, your doctor will then create a plan of action that is best for your situation to help treat your symptoms.

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Gallstone Treatment Options

Gallstones that are not causing any symptoms do not require treatment; however, if you are experiencing painful symptoms, treatment will be necessary. The most common treatment is to surgically remove the gallbladder. This procedure can often be done laparoscopically through small incisions and as an outpatient procedure. Once the gallbladder is removed, your bile will flow from the liver directly into the small intestine rather than being stored in the gallbladder. While you do not need a gallbladder to live, your body may take longer to adjust to digesting fat following this procedure.

In some cases, medications to dissolve gallstones may be an option. However, it may take months to years of this treatment, and the gallstones can reform if treatment is stopped.

Gallstones FAQs

Can stress cause gallstones?

Stress can impact your health. For example, people who are often experiencing stress may find they eat in a hurry, which can cause spasms of the bile duct and lead to liver or gallbladder issues. However, the act of feeling stressed on its own does not directly lead to the formation of gallstones.

What organs do gallstones affect?

Gallstone disease is the most common disorder of the biliary system, which is the system that transports bile in the body. Gallstones form in the gallbladder and biliary tract or the ducts that lead from the liver to the small intestine.

What painkiller is best for gallstone pain?

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs, are the first-line therapy to manage pain or discomfort associated with acute biliary colic or complications of gallstones. These medications can help to relieve inflammation, pain and fever from gallstones or complications associated with gallstones.

Can gallstones go away on their own?

Gallstones do not usually go away on their own, and treatment may be needed. There are some instances in which gallstones can be cleared with medication or non surgical treatments. Large stones, or those that cause severe pain will require surgery.

Can you drink coffee with gallstones?

Coffee is usually OK to drink if you have gallstones. However, you should be sure to stick to no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is about 3 to 5 cups a day. If you are having issues with your gallbladder, you may want to avoid adding excess cream to your coffee, as this may lead to discomfort. If you have any questions regarding dietary changes following a gallstone diagnosis, contact South Denver GI today.

Do gallstones cause weight gain?

No, gallstones do not cause weight gain. In fact, if your gallbladder is not functioning optimally and your body cannot absorb much fat, you may actually lose weight.

What medications dissolve gallstones?

There are certain medications that can be used to break up small cholesterol stones. However, if you have many stones, it may take months or years to break up all of the stones with this treatment option. Your South Denver GI provider will speak with you to determine if a medication regimen is a good treatment option for your gallstones.

What are the first signs of gallstones?

The first sign of gallstones is often a sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the upper right part of the abdomen or in the center of the abdomen, just below the breastbone. Patients may also experience back pain between the shoulder blades, as well as nausea or vomiting. If you are experiencing intense abdominal pain that doesn't allow you to sit in a comfortable position or a high fever with chills, seek immediate care. The South Denver GI team of specialists can help at our Lone Tree, Englewood, Parker or Castle Rock clinics.

What food triggers gallstones?

Cholesterol has been found to play a role in the formation of gallstones. Because of this, it is recommended that people avoid eating too many foods that are high in saturated fat. Examples include sausages and fatty cuts of meats, butter, cream, hard cheese, food containing coconut or palm oil or cakes and other desserts.

What are the types of gallstones?

Gallstones are classified into different categories. Cholesterol stones are usually greenish yellow and are the most common type of gallstones. Pigment stones are darker and smaller and are made up of bilirubin.

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At South Denver GI, our team of physicians and advanced practice providers have the expertise to provide you with outstanding care. If you would like to learn more about Gallstones or need to schedule an appointment at our office, contact us today!

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