Gallstones

Gallstones are a common disease that can affect around 30% of individuals by the time they reach 50 years old. Women are more likely to experience gallstones than men, and women over the age of 40 (entering menopause) are more likely to experience them than their younger counterparts.

Gallstones form in the Gallbladder which is a part of the digestive system, though it is not integral to the digestive system functioning which is why gallbladder removal surgery is a common procedure.

The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile, a fluid that is produced by the liver. Bile aids in the digestive process of lipids (fats and fat-soluble vitamins) in the small intestine. It is an important cog in the wheel to maintaining a healthy digestive system.

Though the Gallbladder is an organ, gallbladder removal surgery is a common treatment in gallstone removal. Since the Gallbladder only stores the bile and distributes it into the small intestine, but does not actually make it, gallbladder removal surgery, known technically as a ‘cholecystectomy’ is a perfectly safe treatment for gallstones.

There are two types of surgery for cholecystectomy. The first is called a ‘laparoscopic cholecystectomy’, completed using keyhole surgery. The second is more invasive and is called an open cholecystectomy.

Gallstones are caused by many factors, and whilst some of these are systemic of lifestyle choices – such as dietary habits, genetics can also play a part in whether an individual might require gallstone surgery later in life.

Rapid weight loss, haematological (blood-related) disorders, obesity and age are all common factors that can contribute to the dysfunction of the gallbladder, a condition that results gallstones occurring and the need for treatment, often gallbladder removal surgery.

Gallstones form when a 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. Typically, the size of the gallstone directly relates to how painful the gallstone is, although up to 70% of individuals experience no symptoms at all prior to requiring surgery.

Though gallstones can be asymptomatic for a significant amount of time, once symptoms manifest themselves, they often include pain in the right side under the right rib. The pain usually is sharp and lasts anywhere between half an hour to six hours.

The pain is typically brought on by a fatty or a dairy rich meal. It can cause a series of complications such as acute cholecystitis, pancreatitis and cholangitis. Gallstone removal in this case is facilitated by actual gallbladder removal surgery.

This surgery to remove the gallbladder (a cholecystectomy) can be done using keyhole or laparoscopic technique and is done under general anaesthesia within our Perth surgery.
An overnight stay is typically required for patients who have undergone surgery for gallstone removal.

Preventing gallstones is recommended by maintain a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet that is fibre-rich and low in simple carbohydrates. If symptoms of gallstones are non-existent, then often no treatment is required, however it is always best to consult with a doctor should any symptoms, no matter how minor, arise.

Mr Siva Gounder can consult with you in our Perth clinic should you experience any sharp pains underneath the right rib. This is usually indicative of gallstones and you may require gallstone removal surgery.

Approximately 10-15% of adults in the developed world experience gallstones. This rate is significantly lower in Africa – as low as 3%. Around 1.5% of the population experienced gallbladder and biliary-related disease in 2013.

Women commonly experience more gallstones than men and these are often in the over-40 age bracket. Ethnicities also experience different rates of gallstones with almost half of individuals of American-Indian heritage experience symptoms, but less than 5% of Africans experiencing symptoms.

Once the gallstone removal as occurred either through gallbladder removal surgery or by some other means, the outcome is often good.

The three most common types of stones are:

Cholesterol stones

These stones are often light yellow to dark green in colour and are oval-shaped. They typically have a dark central spot and are several centimetres in length. As these stones can be quite large, they can also be quite painful. To be classified as this type of stone, more than 80% of the stone must be cholesterol by weight.

Bilirubin stones

Known as “black pigment” stones, these are small, dark and typically are quite numerous. They contain around 20% cholesterol with their main constituent being calcium-based salts that are found in bile. Between 2% and 30% of a collection of gallstones within an individual are classified as Bilirubin

Mixed stones

Mixed stones contain a mixture in various quantities of cholesterol stones and Bilirubin stones. They are often visibile through radiography due to their calcium content (This is also true for Bilirubin stones). Approximately 4-20% of a collection of gallstones within an individual will be mixed.

gallstones