Gallstones: Cause, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Gallstones, medically known as cholelithiasis, are a very common health condition in developed countries, like the United States or Canada. About 20% of Americans who are 65 or older suffer from this condition. In some cases, you have nothing to worry about, but in 20% of the cases, it is necessary to intervene medically. Otherwise, life-threatening complications may occur. How to recognize you have cholelithiasis and what to do next is, therefore, necessary for everyone.

What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones develop in the gallbladder and are hardened collections of (bile) substances. This can be cholesterol, bilirubin, bile salts, and/or lecithin. Often these substances collect at the bottom of the gallbladder until they harden into gallstones and grow slowly every time bile washes over them and the “stones” collect extra bile substances. There are two types of gallstones, that is cholesterol gallstones and pigment gallstones. The first one is the most common type. These often yellow-looking gallstones consist mainly of undissolved cholesterol. Pigment gallstones are dark-colored stones that develop if the bile has too much bilirubin in it.

Another cause of gallstones is that the gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly. If it doesn’t empty completely or often enough, bile may become very concentrated and cause gallstones. The size of gallstones varies, they can be as small as a pebble or the size of a golf ball. As said before 80% of the people with this condition won’t experience any symptoms or have any health problems. Gallstones become a problem if they get loose and travel to the bile duct and create a blockage – which is 20% of the cases.

Risk Factors of Gallstones
Everyone can get gallstones, doesn’t matter the age. However, people over the age of 40 have an increased risk of gallstones. In addition, women also have a greater risk of cholelithiasis, this is due to the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The woman to men ratio is 3:1. Other factors that increase the risks of having gallstones:

  • Ethnicity; Native Americans & Hispanic
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Pregnancy
  • Diet; High-fat, high-cholesterol, and/or low-fiber
  • Family history with gallstones
  • Diabetes
  • Blood disorders, like sickle cell anemia or leukemia
  • Losing weight too quickly
  • Medication that contains estrogen
  • Liver disease

Continue reading on the next page, and find out, among others, how to recognize you’re having a gallstones problem and what you should do next.