Gallstones are more common than you may think. A gallstones diet could help. In fact it’s estimated that more than 1 in every 10 adults in the UK has gallstones. But what exactly are they and what effect can they have on the body? Today, we share the facts on gallstones and the risk factors which increase their likelihood.
What are gallstones?
The gallbladder is a small sac on the underside of the liver. Bile (also called gall) is a greenish-brown liquid produced by the liver. It’s stored and concentrated in the gallbladder and passed into the small intestine (through the bile ducts) to help with digestion, mainly of fats.
Gallstones occur when bile, which is normally fluid, forms stones. They contain lumps of cholesterol-like (fatty) material that has solidified and hardened. Sometimes, bile pigments or calcium deposits can form gallstones. Some people have many very small stones, like fine gravel, and some have a single stone that’s big enough to completely fill the gallbladder.
Who is at risk of developing gallstones?
One in 10 people will develop gallstones. Women, people over 40 and overweight people are more likely to develop them. Gallstones are also more likely if:
- Your bile contains too much cholesterol
- The outlet from your gallbladder is blocked or infected
- You have a family history of gallstones
How will I know if I have gallstones?
Gallstones are often discovered by accident, when you have an X-ray or ultrasound scan for another reason. In these cases, it’s usually best to leave them alone unless they produce symptoms.
Fewer than one in five people with gallstones have symptoms, because the stones usually stay in the gallbladder and cause no problems.
However, sometimes gallstones may lead to your gallbladder becoming inflamed (cholecystitis), which can cause:
- Pain below your ribs on the right hand side
- Pain in your back and right shoulder
- Biliary colic
If gallstones pass down your bile duct into your duodenum, you will experience a painful condition known as biliary colic. The pain is usually felt in the upper part of your abdomen, in the centre, or a little to the right, and often occurs about an hour after a meal that has a particularly high fat content.
The pain is usually continuous, lasting a few hours before it disappears. However, some people experience ‘waves’ of pain and others have continuous pain for more than 24 hours.
Some people describe the pain as being similar to very severe indigestion. In some cases, the pain can be so severe that they report feeling like they’re having a heart attack. Also, people can feel sick and may vomit.
The effects of gallstones
Gallstones can sometimes cause flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature and shivering. This can be a sign that gallstones are causing an infection to develop in your gallbladder. You will normally be admitted to hospital to have your gallbladder removed if you develop this problem.
This is an uncommon complication of gallstones. It occurs if a gallstone comes out of the gallbladder, but gets stuck in the bile duct. Bile then cannot pass into the gut, and so seeps into the bloodstream. This causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow (jaundiced). The stone may eventually be passed into the gut, but you’ll normally need an operation to remove it.
This is an inflammation of the pancreas. It occurs when a small gallstone passes through a bile duct and blocks a pancreatic duct or causes a reflux of fluids and bile into this duct. Acute pancreatitis develops in about 5% of people that have gallstones and is more common in patients with small, multiple stones.
Recent decades have seen gallstones on the increase in our western population. Why is this? Our love of processed/convenience foods, high sugar consumption and insufficient healthy fats, fluids and fibres are major factors in stone formation.
121 Dietitian provides the gold standard in assessment and dietary treatment specific to you and your health. Using natural foods and fluids to reduce the inflammatory processes our gallstones diet programme will allow you to settle your gallstones and optimise your health.
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Information checked & correct on 16th May 2018.
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