Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile that can form in your gallbladder. Bile is a digestive fluid produced in your liver and stored in your gallbladder. During a gallstone attack, small crystals that have formed a gallstone block the bile duct. You may experience sudden and severe pain on the right side of your upper abdomen. Some medicines and lifestyle changes usually relieve the symptoms, but sometimes the problem needs surgical treatment. The risk of gallstones increases with age and is most common in women.
The body produces about half to one liter of bile in the liver every day. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and released into the intestine to break down fatty foods. The gallbladder gradually releases the bile, via the bile ducts, into the duodenum. This way the food is broken down so that the intestine can absorb it.
Gallstone disease is caused by an imbalance that causes crystals to form in the gallbladder. If the crystals clump together, small stones (often only a few millimeters in size) are formed, which are usually eliminated in the feces. But sometimes a gallstone can become too large and blocks the bile duct. The pressure in the gallbladder increases and causes a gallstone attack.
Problems with the bile are often caused by high levels of cholesterol. But even people with normal cholesterol levels, who do not produce a lot of bile, can get gallstones.
Gallstones usually don’t cause any symptoms because the stones are often so small that they pass unnoticed through the intestine.
Sometimes this can hurt in connection with consuming fatty foods. During a gallstone attack, any stones that have become too large to pass block the bile duct. This can cause acute pain on the right side of the upper abdomen under the ribs. The pain can also radiate to the back.
Other common symptoms of gallstones:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bloating and stomach gas
Some gallstone attacks last only a few minutes, others last for several hours. Some get just one attack, but many get multiple attacks with moments of minor pain in between. Often it feels better to be in motion than sitting still.
If it hurts when you press under the right rib, the gallbladder may be inflamed. It is a more serious condition that can eventually cause jaundice or inflammation of the pancreas.
Remember that pain on the right side of the abdomen does not have to be caused by gallstones. Stomach gas and kidney stones can cause similar problems. The appendicitis is also located on the right side, but appendicitis is usually characterized by a so-called pain migration from the navel to the right side of the lower abdomen.
Prevention and protection
If you have a history of gallbladder problems and recognize the symptoms, you can use non-prescription analgesic and antispasmodic medicines.
To prevent gallstones, it is advisable to avoid:
- fatty and fried food
- eggs and sour fruit
- heavy meals late at night
- painkillers with codeine.
If you are overweight, it is good to try to lose weight.
Gallstones that don’t cause problems are not treated – if you have symptoms, however, it is important to seek medical help.
Physical examination, sampling, and ultrasound examination can determine if the pain in the stomach is caused by gallstones or biliary tract disorders. If you have severe pain, painkillers can help. In the case of a gallstone attack or gallbladder inflammation, the gallbladder can be operated surgically.
When to consult a doctor
If you suffer from acute abdominal pain, you should get medical help. This also applies to the symptoms of jaundice – dark urine and pale stools. If you experience sudden and intense pain in the right side of your abdomen, you should get emergency care.
How APPOTEK can help
In case of recurrent gallstones, which are not acute, APPOTEK can help you. A nurse or doctor will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms during the care meeting. You may then be prescribed medicines or referred for further treatment. A physical examination is often required in case of gallstones.