Are Gallstones Preventable? How?

It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of women and nearly 10 percent of men in the United States suffer from gallstones. Every year, doctors diagnose about 1,000,000 new cases.

Statistics indicate that men and women over the age of 60 are at greatest risk of developing gallstones. Several known factors can play a role in gallstone formation including diabetes and obesity. Researchers have determined that family history is a strong indicator in determining if a person will develop gallstones at some point in their life. Only about 20 percent of those who have been diagnosed with gallstones will ever experience pain from them. Fortunately, those who may be candidates for developing gallstones, there are ways to prevent them before they develop. There are several treatment options for those who develop painful symptoms that require medical attention.

What are Gallstones?

The gallbladder acts as a storage facility for bile, which is the important fluid that is produced by the liver. This bile from the liver is primarily composed of bile acids and cholesterol. Bile acids are designed to break down the cholesterol into a liquid. When this process does not work properly, the mixture begins to harden and small pieces of it slough off and become gallstones. Many of the stones are very small with some being no larger than a grain of sand. However; some gallstones can become almost as large as a golf ball. As these stones develop in the gallbladder, they may change in size and texture. Many retain a round shape and are often smooth, while others are rough with jagged edges. It takes quite a long time, possibly several years, for a gallstone to develop. Problems can begin when a gallstone becomes lodged in a bile duct. If that happens, a surgeon will be required to remove the gallbladder. Only about 10 percent of those with gallstones will require this surgery. Fortunately, an individual does not need a gallbladder to live.

Gallstone Symptoms

Most people will not experience any symptoms from a gallstone unless it has become stuck in a bile duct. If this occurs, a person will suffer from several symptoms including fever, nausea, vomiting, indigestion episodes, and severe abdominal pain on the right side. Many serious issues can result if these blocked ducts become inflamed or infected. Some gallstones do not cause any problem or pain. If painful symptoms do occur, it is time to seek medical treatment before the symptoms intensify.

Ways to Prevent Gallstones

Long-term weight control helps prevent gallstones, but it is best not to attempt rapid weight loss or follow a very low calorie diet. Research shows that losing weight too fast increases the possibility of developing gallstones. One of the most effective ways to lose weight is to do it slowly by eating healthy plant-based foods that include fruits, fiber, vegetables, and nuts. An ideal diet includes healthy fats such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial in reducing the formation of gallstones. By eliminating most carbohydrates, including bread and refined sugar, the risk of gallstone development decreases.

Treatment of Gallstones

Gallstones may be treated with medications that dissolve them. These are oral medications that may take several months of treatment to dissolve the stones. There is a strong possibility of some gallstones returning. Most doctors do not prescribe medications, but recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder instead. Surgical gallbladder removal is a very safe procedure that is routinely performed approximately 750,000 times annually in the United States. Several years ago, this operation was considered major surgery. It required an incision that usually required about five to seven stitches to close. Recovery time could take several weeks. The latest procedure for gallbladder removal uses a Laparoscopic technique. This simplified surgical procedure only requires the surgeon to make four small holes in the abdomen. With less invasive surgery, recovery time is much quicker. Patients are able to resume their normal routine much faster.

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