Gallstones are a common condition that affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of Americans, or nearly 25 million people. Although gallstones might be common, they can lead to severe complications if left untreated. Typically, they make themselves known by causing significant pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen. Most people have heard of gallstones, but they aren’t entirely clear on what these tiny, dense stones are, why they form, or what they do. In this brief article, we’ll answer the titular question — what are gallstones?
If you have been diagnosed with gallstones or you suspect that you are suffering from cholelithiasis, consult Whalen Clark, M.D., the best gastrointestinal surgeon in Tampa, to learn about your treatment options. Dr. Clark utilizes the latest in minimally invasive, robotic-assisted surgery techniques to treat patients while reducing discomfort and recovery times.
Two Types of Gallstones
There are two primary types of gallstones — cholesterol stones and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones are more common, accounting for approximately 75 percent of gallstones. They are typically identified by their yellow-green color. The second type of gallstone is known as a pigment stone and it is characterized by its dark pigment, which is the result of built up bilirubin, a substance created when red blood cells are broken down. These two types of gallstones can obstruct bile ducts, which can lead to a painful condition known as a gallbladder attack or biliary colic.
Who Is at Risk?
Not all people have the same chance of developing gallstones. Generally, women are more likely to be diagnosed with gallstones than men. This is due to an excess of estrogen in women’s bodies commonly resulting from pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, or birth control pills. As you grow older, your chances of developing gallstones also increases. Family history can also play a role in the production of gallstones. In the United States, American Indians experience a heightened proclivity to develop gallstones as a result of unique gene characteristics. Mexican Americans are also prone to gallstones.
Existing health conditions can also increase the likelihood of a person developing gallstones. Some examples include cirrhosis, infections in the bile ducts, hemolytic anemia, Crohn’s disease, elevated triglyceride levels, diabetes, and more. Finally, people who are obese, have undergone weight-loss surgery, or whose diets consist of high levels of calories and refined carbohydrates and low fiber are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with gallstones.
Preventing and Overcoming Gallstones
Embracing a healthy diet is one of the most effective methods for preventing gallstones. Pain medications, intravenous fluids, fasting, and antibiotics are some common treatment options if your gallbladder becomes inflamed as a result of gallstones. When gallstones become problematic or potentially fatal, a cholecystectomy can be used to remove the gallbladder, thus eliminating the gallstones. This procedure can be performed with the help of robotic-assisted surgical systems that greatly reduce scarring, pain, and complications while simultaneously speeding up recovery.
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