Gallstones are indeed a common medical condition that can affect anyone at any age, but they are more prevalent in women. These small and hard deposits can develop in a woman’s gallbladder and cause a range of symptoms, as you will see below. But what are the causes of gallstones, what are their symptoms, and what are the available treatment options – with a specific focus on how they impact women? Let’s find out.
Gallstones: what are they?
Gallstones are solid particles that form in the gallbladder (a small organ located just under the liver), typically from cholesterol or bilirubin produced during red blood cell breakdown. Gallstones range in size from minute grains of sand up to golf ball-size formations.
Causes of gallstones
- Gender and hormones
As mentioned earlier, women are more likely to develop gallstones than men, and according to gallstone surgery London experts, according to gallstone surgery London experts, the reasons are still not completely understood; although hormonal factors could play a factor. Pregnant women, those on birth control pills or taking hormone replacement therapy and those receiving estrogen therapy therapy all increase the risk. Estrogen may contribute further to gallstones by increasing cholesterol in bile. The same experts agree with this correlation when speaking on behalf of gallstone surgery London specialists.
Age can also increase the chances of gallstone formation; those over 40 being especially at risk. As we get older, our ability to empty our gallbladder efficiently decreases, increasing its likelihood of creating gallstones.
Obese women face an elevated risk for gallstone formation due to increased cholesterol levels in their bile that increase with bodyweight gain – this increases cholesterol concentrations that encourage gallstone formation and stone formation.
Symptoms of gallstones
Gallstones can be asymptomatic; however, when they do lead to problems, the symptoms can be severe. Common symptoms of gallstones include:
- Abdominal pain: Painful symptoms in the upper right part of the abdomen typically include sharp and intense discomfort that radiates to either shoulder blade on one or both sides.
- Vomiting and nausea: Gallstones may trigger vomiting and nausea, especially after you consume fatty or greasy foods.
- Jaundice: In particular cases, gallstones can cause blockage in the bile duct, causing jaundice characterized by yellowish eyes and skin.
- Indigestion and gas: Many people with gallstones experience digestive discomfort, including belching, bloating, and flatulence.
- Intolerance to fatty foods: Consuming high-fat meals may exacerbate gallstone-related symptoms.
Your treatment options
- Watchful waiting
Not all gallstones require immediate treatment. For instance, if you have asymptomatic gallstones or mild symptoms, your doctor may recommend a wait-and-see approach, monitoring your condition for any changes.
Under certain conditions, medications may be given to you in an effort to dissolve gallstones; this approach usually only works well on smaller stones made up of cholesterol-based crystals and may take several months before showing results.
When experiencing severe or persistent symptoms, or complications like infection or obstruction of the bile duct occur, surgical removal of your gallbladder (known as cholecystectomy) is the preferred treatment method. Cholecystectomy surgery may involve traditional open surgery or less invasive laparoscopic techniques for performance.
- Endoscopic procedures
For those who are not good candidates for surgery, endoscopic procedures like endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography may be used by the specialist to remove or break down gallstones in the bile duct.