Diseases & Conditions


GallstonesCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Gallstones?

Gallstones are hard deposits that are formed within the gallbladder due to continuous accumulation of bile components. While they are formed inside the gallbladder, they could pass through the other tracts in the system. This distal passing of the gallstones into the systems could typically affect the cystic duct, the bile tract and the pancreas. Their size depends on the amount of accumulation and the time for which it has been left untreated.

Causes of Gallstones

As explained, gallstones are formed due to the accumulation of the bile deposits in the gallbladder – excess cholesterol or excess bilirubin in the bile. Though these are the two main reasons, there are other substances that could increase the tendency to form gallstones. The excess bilirubin pigment in the blood results from history of liver and blood diseases. If the gallbladder does not empty completely, it could result in deposition of solids which form stones – this could be due to poor muscle tone.

Medication for Gallstones

Surgery is the best option for gallstones if they are recurrent in nature accompanied by frequent attacks. The only known drugs for gallstones are CDCA (chenodeoxycholic acids) and UDCA (ursodeoxycholic acids), but they take a long period before the gallstones dissolve completely. The associated risk of gallstones coming back is also present. Sometimes, chemicals are injected through a catheter which helps dissolve the stones quicker, but there is an associated risk of toxicity.

Cholecystectomy is the name of the commonly used surgical procedure for recurrent gallstones. Medicines are not generally an option for people with sudden inflammation of the gallbladder or in case of large and hard-to-dissolve calcification.

Prevention of Gallstones

Due to the complex nature of treatments and the costs associated with them, gallstones are better prevented than treated. A healthy physical condition with a healthy diet and regular exercise regimes can prevent gallstones.

Risk Factors of Gallstones

There are some factors that affect your chances of victimized by gallstones.

  • Gender – Women are more prone to getting gallstones than men, particularly pregnant women.
  • Age – Older people over the age of 60.
  • Race – American Indians and Mexicans are more likely to be affected.
  • Weight – Like any other illness, people who are obese and have high cholesterol in their system have increased risks.
  • Diet – High-fat diet, High-cholesterol diet and Low-fiber diet
  • Medication – Cholesterol-lowering drugs and hormone therapy drugs

Symptoms of Gallstones

The unfortunate thing about gallstones is that they are silent attackers unlike most other bodily deposits. Records have it that more than 60 to 80% have had no symptoms. Most people are unaware of gallstones until they start experiencing some amount of symptoms like pain in the upper part of the abdomen. The pain worsens in case of complications and targets the person in the form of periodic attacks, the period of which could vary from person to person. Usually, the pain has been reported to start after a heavy meal and incessantly drag for one to four hours. Sometimes, it could even spread to the back and the shoulders. Other common symptoms that patients have experienced are listed below: • Nausea, fever and vomiting • Indigestion and bloating of the stomach • Jaundiced eyes

Treatment for Gallstones

The best treatment for gallstones is the ESWL procedure (Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy) that creates shock waves in the system to break the stones into tiny pieces that can be ejected out of the system. Bile acid-drugs are available which attempt to dissolve gallstones; but these drugs are ineffective against bilirubin stones.

Types of Gallstones

Broadly, gallstones can be divided into two types – those which are made from cholesterol and those which are made by bilirubin in the bile. There are different types of gallstones of which the most common types are:

  • Cholesterol Gallstones
    These are the most common forms of gallstones and are formed from undissolved cholesterol in the human body.
  • Black Pigment Gallstones
    They are formed when the bile juice has excess of the bilirubin pigment which combines with calcium in the blood.
  • Brown Pigment Gallstones
    They are a bacterial mutation of the black pigment gallstones. The bilirubin is altered by the bacteria and then combines with calcium and undissolved fats to form these gallstones.
  • Ceftriaxone Gallstones
    These are the only artificial gallstones formed due to the antibiotic, Ceftriaxone, when it combines with the calcium in the bile.