Cholelithiasis is the medical term for bile ducts disorder referring to chemical deposits forming and remaining in the bile ducts area. Gallstones tend to deposit in the gallbladder, bile ducts or less frequently – in intrahepatic ducts. In most cases, gallstone disease is not characterized by any symptoms. Gallstones growth is relatively slow (1-2 mm per year) therefore onset of symptoms is often postponed in a time range of 5 to 20 years. The diagnosis of cholelithiasis has increased immensely since the introduction of ultrasonography of the cavity ventral as a routine abdominal discomfort diagnostic method.

It’s a fairly common disease that only becomes troublesome when symptoms start to show up, causing ailments such as digestive problems, recurring biliary colic, epigastric pain, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. Read more on gallstones symptoms here.

How to treat gallstones ?

Once diagnosed, gallstones disease patients often feel hesitant and confused, not knowing whether the surgery is inevitable, can gallstones be dissolved and go away, can you live with gallstones, should a special gallbladder diet be applied, etc.

There are many gallstone treatment options available, depending on the patient’s overall condition. In many cases, when gallstones give none or mild symptoms, pharmacotherapy, herbal supplements and proper diet are the way to go. With more severe or recurring symptoms surgical gallbladder removal is usually recommended. Read more on gallbladder removal here.

What are gallstones and what are they made of?

Gallstones are chemical substances deposits, usually made of cholesterol, bile dyes, inorganic ions (ie calcium) and proteins. These components may appear in various proportions and under normal circumstances, they should dissolve in the bile and move into the gastrointestinal tract. With the excessive concentration of bile, they precipitate in the gallbladder and the bile ducts. The number and size of stones vary from a sand-like formation, trough small granules, to large, plum-size deposits. Over 75% of biliary deposits are constituted mainly of cholesterol.

What causes gallstones in the gallbladder?

During digestive processes, bile, which works as a fat metabolizer, is transported from gallbladder via bile ducts to the duodenum. In some people, crystals of cholesterol and bile salts precipitate in the vesicle, where they clump together and form bile deposits, so-called gallstones. 

Cholelithiasis has been considered a metabolic disease for many years and currently, at least three parallel disorders are recognized and considered gallstone-related. These are:

  • Bile cholesterol oversaturation
  • Accelerated crystallization of cholesterol in bile associated with damage or excessive proteins presence
  • Prolonged cholestasis resulting from gallbladder dysfunction

What are gallstones risk factors?

In general, the incidence of this type of urolithiasis increases with age – it affects about 15-18% of people up to 40 years of age and even 50% of people over 60 years of age. In each age group, this disease is 4-5 times more common among women. In 10% of cases, cholecystitis is accompanied by deposits in the bile ducts.

To simplify initial recognition of “high risk” patients, the so-called 4F rule has been introduced: females, fatty, fertile, forty – which characterizes four factors: being women, obesity, fertility and after the age of 40.

A more detailed list of risk factors for gallstone includes:

  • older age,
  • being female,
  • hormonal factors (e.g. multiple pregnancies),
  • genetic predisposition,
  • diabetes,
  • obesity,
  • hypertriglyceridemia (high triglycerides in the blood),
  • history of gastrectomy,
  • short bowel syndrome,
  • fast weight loss,
  • prolonged fasting,
  • cystic fibrosis,
  • chronic cholangitis

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