The gallbladder is a small organ found on the abdomen’s right side, beneath the liver. Its primary purpose is store bile that is released after eating as an aid in fat digestion. However, the gallbladder can occasionally do more harm than good when it fails to function properly.
What are Gallstones?
Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that occur in the gallbladder or the bile duct. The size of these deposits can range from as small as a single grain of rice to as large as a golf ball. Some patients only experience one, while others may have several.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Many gallstones cause no symptoms whatsoever. However, those that block the bile duct can lead to a number of painful and bothersome symptoms associated with the resulting inflammation, a condition also known as cholecystitis. These symptoms include:
- Pain and tenderness located in the upper right abdomen (Pain may also be felt in the upper right back and shoulder.)
- Discomfort or pain after eating
- Nausea or vomiting
Risk Factors for Developing Gallstones
Some patients are more likely to develop gallstones than others based on the presence of certain risk factors. These include:
- Family history of gallstones
- Being overweight
- Eating a diet that is high in fat or cholesterol or low in fiber
- Experiencing rapid weight loss
- Being pregnant
- Being over 60 years old
- Being female
- Being of Mexican or Native American descent
Treatment for Gallstones
Some cases of gallstones, particularly those which are asymptomatic, may be initially treated with medications and changes in diet. However, most patients who are experiencing symptoms from the condition will require gallbladder removal. This procedure is safe and effective, and any side effects that patients may experience regarding digestive changes are generally mild and temporary.