Gallstones are small pebbles of hardened bile that form in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ that sits under the liver and stores bile after it’s produced by the liver. Following a meal, the gallbladder is responsible for emptying bile into the small intestine. Chemical imbalances in the substances that make up bile causes the production of gallstones. Imbalances typically include high amounts of cholesterol and fats that then interfere with normal gallbladder function.
Gallstones can range in size from stones as tiny as a grain of sand to as large as golf balls. Many people with gallstones do not experience symptoms such as pain or swelling. In other cases, sudden pain is most often experienced in the upper right abdomen as a result of a severe gallbladder attack. These attacks may often follow heavy meals.
Gallstones affect approximately one million people every year. Women are at an increased risk for acquiring gallstones. In general, those who are at risk of developing gallstones typically include:
- Women ages 20-60
- Men and women ages 60+
- Men and women who are overweight
- Men and women who go on “crash” diets or lose weight quickly
- Pregnant women or women who have used birth control pills or estrogen
Gallstones are one of the leading causes of gallbladder pancreatitis. Without proper management, pancreatitis caused by gallstones can cause severe pain in the abdomen and lead to more serious problems such as nutritional deficiencies.
Don’t let your gallstones go untreated! Ask a physician if you are at risk for gallbladder pancreatitis. For more information or to schedule an appointment with Regional Gi’s board-certified specialists, please visit our site.