Whatever the type of gallstones you have – cholesterol stones that form when liquid bile becomes concentrated, containing more cholesterol than can be dissolved; a gallbladder that doesn’t contract and empty properly; or pigment stones associated with certain medical conditions – your gallstones can cause severe symptoms ranging from relentless pain lasting for hours, pain that is brought on by eating fatty meals, pain that is sharp, dull, or crampy, and pain that worsens with deep breathing, to vomiting, nausea, fever, chills, jaundice, and light or clay-colored stools. But living with gallstones need not be uncomfortable and distressing. Treatment options are available and success rates for currently available treatments are excellent.
I have Gallstones – what should I do?
Gallstones only cause symptoms when the stones pass through the bile duct or obstruct it, thereby causing biliary colic, which is more commonly called a gallbladder attack. The attack usually consists of pain in the right upper or middle abdomen that builds to maximum intensity in about an hour and can persist for several hours. Gallstones should only be treated if they are causing symptoms. For frequent gallbladder attacks, the most effective treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder from the body, also known as cholecystectomy.
Fortunately, the disadvantages of living without a gallbladder are few. When the gallbladder is removed from your body, the bile simply flows directly into the small intestine through the bile duct. The gallbladder, when it is present, releases bile into the intestine only when food is present in the intestine. After the gallbladder has been removed, bile is released into the intestine even when no food is present. This may cause loose stools or diarrhea, but this problem can be treated with medication.
If you are unwilling to undergo surgery or your doctor deems you an unsuitable candidate for surgery, and provided your gallstones are relatively small, a nonsurgical option is to take a medication called ursodiol. Ursodiol or Actigall is a naturally occurring bile acid that helps dissolve cholesterol, but it can take up to two years to eliminate the stones and will only dissolve those gallstones made of cholesterol, not pigment stones. Drug therapy may occasionally be combined with lithotripsy, which uses sound waves from outside the body to break gallstones into smaller pieces that may dissolve more easily or are small enough to safely and painlessly pass through the bile duct. Unfortunately, the likelihood of recurrence of gallstones is high after medical treatment.
Are there any home treatments for Gallstones?
Unfortunately, there are no specific treatments that you can employ at home for gallstones. You should consult your doctor if you think you have gallstone symptoms. If gallstones are discovered, but your symptoms remain mild, more often than not it will be safe to wait and watch. In all probability, your doctor will wait until you have more than one attack before considering surgery for treatment of your gallstones. You should seek medical attention immediately if you develop severe symptoms of pain, especially if they are associated with fever, chills, or yellowing (jaundice) of the skin.
Are Gallstones preventable?
There’s no convincing or proven way to prevent gallstones, but there are several risk factors which you can control to lower your risk of developing gallstones. In other words, you may not be able to prevent gallstones, but you can certainly reduce your risk of developing them with lifestyle choices and strategies. Eating a well balanced diet, not skipping meals, and drinking sufficient amounts of water every day to keep well hydrated are some easily enforceable options. If you plan to lose weight, do it slowly and sensibly. Your aim should be to lose no more than two pounds or approximately 1 kilogram every week. Rapid weight loss increases your risk for gallstones as well as other health problems. You should stay close to a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Research has linked moderate alcohol consumption to a lower risk of symptom-inducing gallstones. A study has also found that women who ate several servings of peanuts or other nuts every week were less likely to require gallbladder surgery, as were women who ate a diet rich in fiber. Gallbladder surgery has also been noted to be less common in people who exercise regularly.