Q: How do you get gallstones and how do they form in your body?
A: The ultimate cause of gallstones has not been fully determined. However, a patient can develop gallstones when there is an imbalance in the chemical composition of bile, a fluid produced by the liver to assist with digestion. Stones can form if your bile contains excessively high levels of substances like cholesterol or bilirubin.1,2
In some cases, gallstones can develop if the patient's gallbladder fails to empty completely or if it does not empty often enough. This can cause the bile to become very concentrated and result in stone formation.3
Q: What do gallstones look like, and what are they made of?
A: Gallstones look like hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. A stone’s color depends on the substance that it’s made of. Yellow stones are cholesterol gallstones that are made of the said substance, alongside other components in your bile.4
On the other hand, dark brown or black stones are pigment gallstones that form because of having too much bilirubin in your bile.5 These stones may also consist of calcium salts of phosphate, carbonate and other anions.6
Q: Are gallstones dangerous?
A: While gallstones do not generally trigger symptoms, these complications can occur if the stones are left untreated:7
• Gallbladder inflammation
• Blockage of the common bile duct
• Gallstone pancreatitis (blockage of the pancreatic duct)
Gallbladder cancer is another reported complication of gallstones, although this is rare.
Q: Do gallstones hurt?
A: Yes. If a stone gets lodged in a duct and prompts a blockage, a patient can experience extreme pain and discomfort that may last for several minutes up to a few hours. Common gallstone symptoms include:8
• Sudden and rapid pain that intensifies in the upper right part of the abdomen, and/or in the center of your abdomen just below the breastbone
• Back pain between the shoulder blades
• Pain in the right shoulder
• Nausea or vomiting
If a patient notices any of the following indicators, he or she must consult a physician immediately:
• A high fever with chills
• Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
• Intense abdominal pain that prevents the patient from sitting still or finding a comfortable position
Q: Are gallstones hereditary?
A: There may be a hereditary link to gallstones, since having a family history of gallstones can play a role in increasing a patient's risk for this condition. However, there might be other factors that can trigger the disease, such as gender, race, age, lifestyle habits and existing diseases that the patient may have.9
Q: How are gallstones diagnosed?
A: A physician will perform any of these five diagnostic methods to determine whether a patient has gallstones:10
• Computerized tomography (CT) scan
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
• Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Aside from these procedures, a physician can also recommend tests to check for indicators of infection or inflammation in the bile ducts, gallbladder, pancreas or liver.
Q: Can you pass a gallstone?
A: Yes. According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, most gallstones tend to be small enough to pass out of the body via the intestines without you noticing.11
Q: How do you treat or dissolve gallstones?
A: Some gallstones may not require medical treatment because they don't prompt symptoms. If treatment is needed to remove gallstones from the body, it may include the following:12
• Changes to the patient's diet
• Medications (although these are rarely given because they can lead to unpleasant side effects)
Arguably, natural methods, as opposed to conventional treatment protocols, are better when it comes to dissolving these stones and flushing them out of your body.