What are Gallstones?

Gallstones are hardened deposits of digested fluid known as bile. These deposits form in the gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ located beneath the liver. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver and then releases it into the small intestine as needed. Bile also carries waste such as cholesterol and bilirubin, which your body makes when it breaks down red blood cells. These processes can occasionally cause gallstones, which can lodge in a bile duct and cause a blockage. Some people develop one gallstone, while others can develop many gallstones at once. 

What are the Types of Gallstones? 

Gallstones may range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. They can be broken down into two types:

  • Cholesterol gallstones: One of the most common types of gallstones, this type is generally yellow in color and is mostly made up of un-dissolved cholesterol
  • Pigment gallstones: Pigment gallstones appear black or dark brown in color and form when there’s an excess of bilirubin in the bile. Bilirubin is a byproduct following the body’s breakdown of red blood cells

Causes and Risk Factors of Gallstones

It is not clear what exactly causes gallstones to form, but they might happen when:

  • Your bile contains too much cholesterol: If your liver excretes more cholesterol than your bile can dissolve, the excess may form into crystals and eventually into stones.
  • Your bile contains too much bilirubin: Certain conditions including liver cirrhosis, blood disorders, or infections may cause your liver to produce too much bilirubin, leading to gallstone formation.
  • Your gallbladder doesn’t empty properly: If your gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly or often enough, bile can become very concentrated, which results in gallstones.

Risk factors for developing gallstones may include:

  • Age (over 60)
  • Diabetes
  • Diet (low-fiber, high fat, or high cholesterol)
  • Ethnicity (American Indian or Mexican-American)
  • Family history of gallstones
  • Gender (female)
  • Medications that contain estrogen (e.g. hormone therapy drugs)
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Rapid weight loss

Symptoms of Gallstones

While most gallstones are asymptomatic, symptoms can include nausea, fever, jaundice, and dark urine.

Typically, however, symptoms only present when gallstones cause a blockage in a bile duct. When a blockage occurs, symptoms may include:

  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the right shoulder
  • Sudden, intense pain in the upper right section of the abdomen or just below the breastbone

The pain may last anywhere from several minutes to several hours.

How are Gallstones Diagnosed?

In many cases, gallstones are discovered by accident when an individual is being treated for a different condition. Imaging tests such as an ultrasound or X-ray may prompt further evaluation if your doctor suspects the presence of gallstones. Lab tests may be used to look for signs of infection, obstruction, or conditions such as pancreatitis. There are a number of tests and procedures that can be performed to help diagnose gallstones and complications of gallstones, including:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • Other imaging tests: CT scan, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan, and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Blood tests

Treatment Options for Gallstones in NJ

As previously stated, gallstones typically do not show any signs or symptoms. They are usually only revealed during an ultrasound or CT for an unrelated condition. Therefore, they often do not require treatment. 

However, gallstones that do cause symptoms may be treated in the following ways:

  • Surgery: Known as a cholecystectomy, surgery to remove the gallbladder may be recommended if gallstones frequently recur. Patients can live without complications void of their gallbladder and will have no issue with digestion.
  • Medication: There are certain medications that may be taken orally to aid in dissolving the gallstones, but these are typically reserved for patients who are unable to have surgery.

Care for Gallstones in NJ from Digestive Healthcare Center

Digestive Healthcare Center is proud to offer leading care for patients with a variety of digestive health conditions, including gallstones. With three convenient office locations in NJ, our expert gastroenterologists will work closely with you to diagnose your condition and develop a personalized treatment plan, ensuring that your specific needs are met. We give patients access to a wide range of tests and procedures focused on promoting and maintaining positive digestive health throughout their lives. Learn more about all we have to offer to patients in Somerset County and contact us today to schedule an appointment!  

Digestive Health Care and Treatment in New Jersey

Our team of gastroenterologists at Digestive Healthcare Center wants to help you live a healthier and more comfortable life, by helping you put your digestive health first. Please contact us today to make an appointment – either at one of our three gastroenterology centers in NJ or from the comfort of your home via a virtual telemedicine visit.

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