Following are the common questions about Gallstones:
- What are gallstones?
- What are the different tests performed for gallstone diagnosis?
- Is it possible to treat gallstones with medicines?
- What are the non-surgical treatment methods for gallstones?
- What are the common signs of a gallbladder problem?
- What are the other conditions that can be mistaken for gallstones?
- What are the natural remedies to relieve gallbladder pain?
- What happens if gallstones are left untreated?
- What does gallbladder cleanse mean?
- How are gallbladder stones treated surgically?
- How much does gallstone surgery cost?
- What should I not eat with gallstones?
- What are the factors that can increase the risk of developing gallstones?
- What is a gallbladder attack?
- What are the common complications with gallbladder removal surgery?
- Can you digest food properly without a gallbladder?
- How long does it take to recover after gallstone surgery?
- How to prevent gallstones?
Q. What are gallstones?
A. Gallstones or gallbladder stones are hardened deposits in the gallbladder that forms due to a higher concentration of the digestive fluid, i.e., bile juice.
The bladder stores the bile juice and releases it into the small intestine from time to time. However, in some situations, the bladder may not empty properly due to which the bile becomes more concentrated and small grains of cholesterol or bilirubin start to form. These precipitated grains are called gallstones.
Q. What are the different tests performed for gallstone diagnosis?
A. There are various tests that can be performed to diagnose gallstones. The tests include-
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- Oral cholecystography
- Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Blood tests
These diagnostic tests will allow the surgeon to identify the type of stone present in the bladder and narrow down the technique that will be most appropriate to remove them.
Q. Is it possible to treat gallstones with medicines?
A. Yes. There are several medicines that can help to get rid of gallstones in an easy way. The most common medicines for gallstones are Chenodiol and Ursodiol. They target the cholesterol stones and dissolve them gradually over a period of one or two years.
The entire course of medicine is very long and the patient has to take them regularly to reduce the stone size. Once they are small enough, the patient can pass them out through stools.
Q. What are the non-surgical treatment methods for gallstones?
A. There are three different non-surgical methods to treat gallstones-
- Oral dissolution therapy, i.e., using medications like ursodiol or chenodiol to break up the stones.
- Shockwave lithotripsy involves using sound waves to break large gallstones into smaller pieces and make it easier to pass them through bowel movements.
- Percutaneous drainage of the bladder is another non-surgical technique to treat gallstones. It involves placing a sterile needle into the bladder and aspirating (drawing out) the bile.
Q. What are the common signs of a gallbladder problem?
A. The following signs commonly indicate problem in the gallbladder:
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Nausea or frequent vomiting
- Unexplained fever or chills
- Chronic diarrhea
- Unusual stools or urine
Q. What are the other conditions that can be mistaken for gallstones?
A. There are several medical conditions that mimic gallbladder pain. These conditions include-
- Gallbladder cancer
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Kidney stones
All these conditions can cause severe pain and other complications as well. Therefore, it is advised that you see a doctor right away if you have severe abdominal pain, yellow skin, and high fever with chills.
Q. What are the natural remedies to relieve gallbladder pain?
A. Some of the common natural remedies that people often try to get relief from gallbladder pain are-
- Regular exercise to reduce the cholesterol level and prevent gallstone formation.
- Dietary changes to avoid foods that are high in sugars and fats as they can contribute to stone formation.
- Apply heat to soothe out the pain and get relief from the spasms.
- Drink apple cider vinegar or peppermint tea as they have anti-inflammatory properties and help to relieve the pain.
These natural remedies can provide relief but you have to use them regularly to keep the symptoms at bay. Also, remember that these remedies can only address the symptoms and won't resolve the underlying cause.
Q. What happens if gallstones are left untreated?
A. If gallstones are not treated on time, they can cause the following complications-
- Inflammation of the gallbladder if the stone gets stuck in the neck of the bladder.
- Blockage of the common bile duct will prevent the bile juice from flowing to the small intestine and cause problems like bile duct infection, jaundice, and severe pain.
- Blockage in the pancreatic duct that causes inflammation in the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis.
- Gallbladder cancer risk also increases if gallstones are left untreated for a long time.
Most of these complications are alarming and require emergency treatment.
Q. What does gallbladder cleanse mean?
A. Gallbladder cleanse, also known as liver flush, is a specialized diet that is customized to keep a person from getting gallstones or to make it easier to pass the existing gallstones in stools.
The most common cleansing methods are-
- Avoid eating for 12 hours and then around 7 PM, drink one tablespoon of lemon juice and four tablespoons of olive oil eight times. Keep a 15 minute gap between the rounds.
- The second cleanse technique involves drinking only apple juice and vegetable juice until 5 PM. After that, drink 18ml of olive oil and 9 ml of lemon juice every 15 minutes.
The gallbladder cleanse method may or may not work for every person. It will be better if you consult a gallstone specialist and discuss the treatment options with him/her.
Q. How are gallbladder stones treated surgically?
A. The surgery performed for the treatment of gallstones is known as cholecystectomy and involves the removal of the gallbladder itself. The surgery can be performed through open technique or laparoscopic technique. Irrespective of the technique, the surgeon will remove the gallbladder so that the bile juice flows directly from the liver to the small intestine. This will leave negligible chances of gallstone formation and the absence of gallbladder doesn't have any unwanted consequences as well.
Q. How much does gallstone surgery cost?
A. The operation cost of gallstone removal surgery can be around Rs. 45,000 to Rs. 1,00,000 or more depending on various factors. These factors include-
- The size, number, and location of the stones
- The technique chosen for gallbladder removal
- Choice of hospital
- Surgeon's consultation and operating fee
- Diagnostic tests
- Hospital admission, stay, and discharge fee
- Post-surgery care and follow-up consultations
All these factors are accounted for before calculating the final price of gallstone treatment. And the cost also varies from one patient to another based on these factors.
Q. What should I not eat with gallstones?
A. If you have gallstones, the doctor will advise you to avoid eating the following items-
- Food items that are high in trans fat
- Unhealthy fats
- Processed foods
- Refined carbohydrates
- Packed and frozen foods
- Foods that contain preservatives in an excessive amount
- Excessively sweetened breakfast cereals
- Reconstituted meat products
All these foods are highly processed and affect the digestion process in a negative way. Therefore, these foods should be avoided at all costs.
Q. What are the factors that can increase the risk of developing gallstones?
A. The various factors that put an individual more at risk of developing gallstones are:
- Age over 40
- Family history of gallstones
- Being female
- Taking estrogen
- Frequent fasting
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- High fat or high cholesterol diet
- Rapid weight loss
Q. What is a gallbladder attack?
A. A gallbladder attack refers to the symptoms of gallstones that usually appear right after meals. It causes severe pain in the upper right abdomen, just below the rib cage.
It happens when a gallstone gets stuck in the bile duct. As the bile juice builds up excessively, it triggers pain in the bladder and causes symptoms like-
- Fever or chills
- Tea-colored urine
- Light-colored stools
- Pain in the right abdomen
A doctor usually recommends gallstone surgery when the individual has had several episodes of a gallbladder attack.
Q. What are the common complications with gallbladder removal surgery?
A. Serious complications are rare with gallbladder removal surgery. But you should still look out for symptoms like digestive issues after having gallstone surgery. The complications that may arise during cholecystectomy are-
- Bile duct injury
- Injury to the surrounding structures
- Leftover stones in the intestine or bile duct
- Blood clots due to prolonged immobilization
- Infection of the wound
- Hemorrhage or bleeding internally or externally after the surgery
- Reaction to anesthesia
- Scars and numbness
All these potential complications can be avoided by a gallstone specialist.
Q. Can you digest food properly without a gallbladder?
A. Yes. It is possible to digest food properly without a gallbladder. Once the gallbladder is removed, the bile juice doesn’t get stored but is passed directly to the small intestine. Therefore, the digestion process is not interrupted at all. However, it may become difficult for you to digest large amounts of fatty, greasy, and high-fiber foods. This can also cause gas, bloating, or diarrhea in some people.
Q. How long does it take to recover after gallstone surgery?
A. On average, the overall recovery time after gallstone surgery is around 3-4 weeks. You will be able to resume daily activities after the first week. However, the doctor will still suggest that you take the necessary precautions and pay attention to your health. Listen to the doctor’s advice and this will ensure that the recovery is quick and smooth.
Q. How to prevent gallstones?
A. To minimize your risk of developing gallstones, try the following tips-
- Don't skip meals. Try to stick with your usual meal times and avoid fasting as it can causes excessive bile juice secretion.
- Lose weight at a slower pace as rapid weight loss can also increase the risk of gallstones.
- Eat high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Maintain a healthy weight and reduce your calorie intake.
- Exercise daily to keep your cholesterol levels in check.