The Gallbladder is a smallish sac which contains a digestive fluid produced by a liver called bile which is used to break down and digest fat. When this fluid hardens and becomes a stone-like material, they form what is known as Gallstones. These usually form when cholesterol, bilirubin or bile salts are found to be at high levels within the body.
Sometimes Gallstones can form a wide variety of sizes ranging from little stones to golf ball sized ones and even a combination of both. Gallstones can be categorised into two types:
Cholesterol Stones which are the most common
Pigment Stones which are formed when there is high level of bilirubin in the system
Mixed stones are possible when both Cholesterol Stones and Pigment Stones are present.
When an imbalance of bile components become present in the body, gallstones develop. If the imbalance is Cholesterol based, cholesterol gallstones tend to form and if there is an increase in bilirubin as well as reduced levels of bile salts, Bilirubin gallstones will form.
Individuals who suffer from Liver Cirrhosis, biliary tract infections as well as genetic blood disorders will find Pigment gallstones present in their body.
Other reasons that can trigger the formation of gallstones are:
- Cholesterol-reducing drugs which lowers the cholesterol levels in the blood but can lead to increased secretion of cholesterol in the bile
- Excess oestrogen levels
- Gender – Women aged between 20 and 60 years are more likely to have gallstones than men Increasing age (>60 years old)
- Obesity that can lead to high levels of cholesterol in the bile Rapid weight loss The mere presence of gallstones is also believed to initiate the formation of more gallstones.
Depending on the size, type, severity as well as where the gallstones are located, the symptoms may vary accordingly:
- Abdominal bloating
- Clay-coloured stools
- Fever and chills
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sharp pain in the upper abdomen
The symptoms above become more apparent especially after the consumption of meals that are high in fat and/or around night time. However, some individuals might not show any signs of having gallstones and are often referred to as silent stones because they do not really affect the gallbladder, liver or pancreas function.
The type of treatment can vary greatly depending on various factors such as the age of the patient as well as their current overall health condition. Our doctors will diagnose, evaluate and further recommend the suitable path of treatment accordingly. Depending on the condition of the individual, the gallstones can either be left alone or removed via the following methods:
- Cholecystectomy, which is the surgical removal of the gallbladder Medication to dissolve small gallstones
- Sphincterotomy where it involves cutting the sphincter (the muscle between the common bile duct and the duodenum) to allow better access to the common bile duct. The bile duct is the tube that carries bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines.
Depending on the type of gallstones, if left untreated, can further complicate the individual's condition with the related issues below:
- Acute or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder (Cholecystitis)
- Gangrene of the gallbladder
- Infection of the common bile duct (Cholangitis)
- Inflammation of the pancreas (Pancreatitis)