Gallstones are a common disease that can effect almost 1/3 of individuals by the time they reach 50 years old. The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile, a fluid produced by the liver. This bile is systematically released into the small intestine which aids in the digestive process. Whilst the gallbladder is an organ that is a part of the digestive process, humans can live without it as the bile is still being produced by the liver.
Gallstones are caused by many factors, and whilst some of these are systemic of lifestyle choices, genetics can also play a part. Rapid weight loss, haematological (blood-related) disorders, obesity and age are all factors that can contribute to the dysfunction of the gallbladder and resulting gallstone formation. Super-concentration of bile within the gallbladder solidifies to form stones. The size of a gallstone may vary from that of a grain of sand to the size of a grape.
In many cases, gallstone can be asymptomatic (up to 70% of patients do not experience any symptoms) however when symptomatic (biliary colic) the primary symptoms include pain in the right side under the right rib. Pain usually is sharp and lasts anywhere between half hour to six hours. The pain is usually brought on by a fatty or dairy rich meal. It can cause a myriad of complications such as acute cholecystitis, pancreatitis and cholangitis.
Once gallstones are symptomatic they tend to be the cause recurrent pain. The treatment of choice is surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) which can be done using keyhole or laparoscopic technique and is done under general anaesthesia.
An overnight stay is typically required for patients who have undergone surgery for the removal of gallstones.
The prevention of gallstones is recommended by maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet that is fibre-rich and low in simple carbohydrates. If symptoms are non-existent, often no treatment is required, however it is always best to consult with a doctor should any symptoms , no matter how minor, arise.