Gallstones are the pebble-like hard deposits that can form inside your gallbladder. They range in size from being as large as a golf ball to small as a grain of sand. Gallstones can cause moderate to severe in people that have them, including sharp or dull pain, abdominal cramping, and severe abdominal pain. A variety of things can cause gallstones and different people have more risk factors for getting them than others.

Causes of Gallstones

Gallstones can be caused by a variety of medical conditions or illnesses. There are two main types of gallstones include those made of cholesterol and others made of bilirubin. Gallstones made of cholesterol are the most common type of gallstones seen though they have nothing to do with the cholesterol in your blood. Bilirubin gallstones are less common and occur when red blood cells are destroyed which lead to having too much bilirubin in the bile. Some people have higher risk factors including people over 40, people who have gallstones run in their families, women, Hispanics, and Native Americans. You’re also at a higher risk for gallstones if you have had a bone marrow transplant, have diabetes, liver cirrhosis, or medical conditions of the liver.

Symptoms of Gallstones

Many people who have gallstones won’t experience any symptoms and they are only found during a medical procedure, abdominal surgery, or routine x-ray. This is because they are so small they have yet to cause any pain or discomfort. However people with larger gallstones experience a number of symptoms including sharp, cramping or dull pain in the upper right or middle abdomen area, pain that may or may not be constant, and pain that often spreads to the shoulder blade. They might also have yellowing of the skin, fever, clay-colored stool, nausea, and vomiting.

Diagnosing Gallstones

TO diagnose gallstones, doctors perform a variety of tests including an abdominal ultrasound, abdominal CT scan, gallbladder radionuclide scan, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, endoscopic ultrasound, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography, or a percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram. Blood tests such as the bilirubin test, liver function test, or pancreatic enzymes test might also be performed.

Treating Gallstones

In many cases, you don’t know you have gallstones and therefore don’t need surgery. However if you are experiencing pain or other symptoms, your doctor may perform a routine procedure that will remove them from your gallbladder. The most common type of surgery for removing gallstones is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Occasionally, medications are used to help reduce the size or pain caused by the gallstones.

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