Gallstones are a common health problem, affecting about 25 million people in the US. However, many people remain uncertain about what they are. If you’re interested in learning more about this common condition, below you’ll know what gallstones are and what affects them.
What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are made from complex bits of material such as bilirubin or cholesterol. They develop in the gallbladder and can significantly vary in size. Some are just the size of a grain of rice, while others can be golf balls.
The number of gallstones generated can also vary. Some people develop just one, while others have hundreds of small gallstones. These stones can likely cause blockages in the biliary tract or bile ducts, resulting in sharp pain at the top of the abdomen.
The majority of gallstones don’t lead to blockages, and they also don’t cause any discomfort. These are identified as silent gallstones, and they tend to move quickly by themselves.
Medically, gallstones are identified as cholelithiasis, and they are one of the most common conditions, affecting around 10% to 15% of the population.
Understanding the Different Types
There are two main types of gallstones you can get. These include cholesterol and pigment stones.
Cholesterol stones tend to be a yellow/green color, and they are hardened cholesterol. In some countries, these types of gallstones are the most common.
Pigment stones, on the other hand, are produced from bilirubin. These tend to be darker in color. It’s also worth noting that you can experience both types of gallstones at the same time.
What Causes Them?
Gallstones are thought to happen due to a chemical imbalance of the bile in the gallbladder. While the cause of this chemical imbalance isn’t known, it is believed to lead to increased cholesterol or bilirubin development.
The excess levels of cholesterol or bilirubin then change into hard stones in the bile. While all gallstones start tiny, some will develop slowly over time. In some cases, gallstones can grow for years before they are discovered.
Can You Prevent Them?
You can’t always prevent gallstones, but some hazard factors can be measured. For example, it is known people suffering from weight issues have a higher risk of developing gallstones. So, weight control could go some way to prevent them.
Avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat will help. You’ll also want to improve your whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetable intake. Interestingly, it is also thought that small quantities of alcohol can help to keep gallstones at bay. Nuts have also been shown to have some benefits at reducing the risk of their development.
As you can see, gallstones are a common issue, and they are usually painless. However, they can also have a substantial impact on your daily life if they grow too large. For this reason, it is worth having them diagnosed by a doctor and administered if needed. You can’t always prevent them, but arming yourself with knowledge about them can help to ensure they don’t develop into a more serious issue.