According to Harvard Health Publications, 80 percent of gallstones are made of cholesterol. The other 20 percent of gallstones are made of calcium salts and bilirubin.
It’s not known exactly what causes gallstones to form, though there are some theories.
Too much cholesterol in your bile
Having too much cholesterol in your bile can lead to yellow cholesterol stones. These hard stones may develop if your liver makes more cholesterol than your bile can dissolve.
Too much bilirubin in your bile
Bilirubin is a chemical produced when your liver destroys old red blood cells. Some conditions, such as liver damage and certain blood disorders, cause your liver to produce more bilirubin than it should. Pigment gallstones form when your gallbladder can’t break down the excess bilirubin. These hard stones are often dark brown or black.
Concentrated bile due to a full gallbladder
Your gallbladder needs to empty its bile to be healthy and to function properly. If it fails to empty its bile content, the bile becomes overly concentrated, which causes stones to form.
Gallstones can lead to pain in the upper right abdomen. You may start to have gallbladder pain from time to time when you eat foods that are high in fat, such as fried foods. The pain doesn’t usually last more than a few hours.
You may also experience:
These symptoms are also known as biliary colic.
Gallstones themselves don’t cause pain. Rather, pain occurs when the gallstones block the movement of bile from the gallbladder.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 80 percent of people have “silent gallstones.” This means they don’t experience pain or have symptoms. In these cases, your doctor may discover the gallstones from X-rays or during abdomen surgery.
Complications and long-term risk
When a gallstone blocks the duct where bile moves from the gallbladder, it can cause inflammation and infection in the gallbladder. This is known as acute cholecystitis. It is a medical emergency.
The risk of developing acute cholecystitis from symptomatic gallstones is 1 to 3 percent.
Symptoms associated with acute cholecystitis include:
intense pain in the upper stomach or mid-right back
nausea and vomiting
See a doctor immediately if these symptoms last more than 1 to 2 hours or if you have a fever.
Untreated gallstones may cause complications such as:
jaundice, a yellowish tint to your skin or eyes
cholecystitis, a gallbladder infection
cholangitis, a bile duct infection
sepsis, a blood infection
Risk factors for gallstones
Many risk factors for gallstones are related to diet, while some factors are uncontrollable. Uncontrollable risk factors are things like age, race, gender, and family history, which can’t be changed.
(Image: Representation only)
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