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Gastrointestinal: A Gathering of Gallstones  Previous Next

A Gathering of Gallstones

by: Jacob Mabille

Many people are afflicted with gallstones whether they realize they have them or not. What are gallstones? They are hardened masses that may vary in size, usually consisting mainly of cholesterol and bile. They may be caused by a variety of conditions such as infection, too much fat in the diet, anemia, liver disease, obesity, diabetes and even pregnancy. People that are overweight seem to be more prone to gallstones as are women who have had two or more pregnancies.

Although it is not known why, women in general seem to have a higher incidence of gallstones than men. Symptoms usually include pain or discomfort in the abdomen as well as nausea and indigestion. But many people that have gallstones have no symptoms at all. Often people do not know they have gallstones until they have a gallbladder attack.

An attack can occur when a stone lodges in the bile duct. This can cause sharp pain on the right side of the abdomen that may travel to the back and shoulder blade. Symptoms may also include fever, chills, vomiting and even jaundice, which is a yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes due to accumulation of bile in the blood.

A stone that becomes lodged could cause serious complications. Surgical removal of the gallbladder may become necessary. Other methods of treatment may include the use of drugs to dissolve stones and the breaking up of the stones by laser technique. Surgery may still be required in some cases.

I found that I had gallstones quite accidentally after being hospitalized for pneumonia. In my case, I had no symptoms and so I was unaware that I had gallstones. They never caused any pain, nausea or other symptoms that would have indicated their presence. As you can see, the absence of symptoms doesn’t mean that gallstones aren’t present.

If you do have any of the symptoms described or experience pain or discomfort after eating, you may suspect that you could have gallstones. If you have any reason to believe that may be the case you should contact your physician immediately for early detection rather than waiting until a severe gallbladder attack occurs. Once detection of gallstones is confirmed your physician can recommend surgery or the appropriate course of action. The early detection of the presence of gallstones can prevent the future pain of gallbladder attacks as well as any complications that could arise due to a lodged stone. Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you.

Jacob Mabille is director of the Franklin Square Clinical Research Center in Baltimore and a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He has developed software used for medical research, and directed the selection and implementation of software throughout the seven hospital system of MedStar Health.

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