What are gallstones anyway?
Gallstones are calcified pieces of bile that a created in the gallbladder or bile ducts. The gallbladder is a small organ that stores concentrated bile to break down food. Gallstones often go unnoticed with no signs or symptoms. However, if these small stones become suck in a duct, severe abdominal pain and discomfort occur. Most doctors take a wait-and-see approach as gallstones clear up naturally. Based on the symptoms, this may not be the best approach.
Your liver, bile, and gallstones
The liver helps with the digestion of fats, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins. The organ also breaks down chemical waste products such as bilirubin by producing a greenish-yellow sticky fluid called bile. The gallbladder contracts to send bile through the biliary tract into the small intestine. If bile contains too much cholesterol or bilirubin, these materials can harden. Cholesterol gallstones are the most common, but bilirubin or pigmented stones can form as well. If these stones become stuck in the duct, there are 3 resulting symptoms.
1. Severe abdominal pain
The most common sign of gallstones is intense and sudden pain at the right side of the abdomen. Severe, rapidly intensifying pain can occur in the middle of the stomach, below the breastbone. The liver is the upper right portion of the abdomen. So any pain in this area can mean something is wrong with the liver, bile ducts, or gallbladder. The pain can even extend to the lower back in more severe cases. Severe abdominal pain does not necessarily mean that someone has gallstones. However, there is a cause for concern, especially with the following 2 symptoms.
2. Fever and shivering
Having a high fever, shivering and pain could be a gallbladder infection or inflammation. Infections are caused by bile or gallstone buildup. On the other hand, gallbladder inflammation or cholecystitis has several causes, including trauma, illness, and tumors when bile builds up in your gallbladder from gallstones. Infections can spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening if left untreated.
3. Yellow skin and eyes
Yellow skin and eyes, or jaundice, is another symptom and cause for concern. Jaundice is a common side effect of liver damage or liver disorders. However, if someone has gallstones due to a buildup of bilirubin, symptoms of jaundice will show. At this point, seek emergency help as the gallstones must be addressed as soon as possible.
Do gallstones require surgery?
Most cases of gallstones clear up without surgery. Some stones are tiny and would not cause long-term discomfort. There are times where doctors can clear gallstones with medication or non-surgical treatments. Large stones, infections, or those that cause severe, chronic pain will require surgery. A surgeon will perform a minimally invasive surgery called cholecystectomy to remove the gallbladder. Removing the gallbladder does not create severe complications and will prevent future gallstones.
Take gallstones symptoms seriously.
Stabbing pain, discomfort, and even fever could be a sign of gallstones. These stones can happen due to excess cholesterol or chemical buildup. Look for the symptoms and visit a doctor immediately. Most cases can resolve naturally. However, if necessary, the doctor may administer treatment. In severe cases of infection or chronic pain, surgical removal can help clear things up for good.