Gallstones are a common health issue, affecting approximately 25 million people in the US. However, many people remain unsure about what they actually are. If you’re interested to learn more about this common condition, below you’ll discover what exactly gallstones are and what causes them.
What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are made from hard pieces of material such as bilirubin or cholesterol. They form in the gallbladder and can greatly range in size. Some are just the size of a grain of rice, while others can be the size of golf balls.
The number of gallstones produced can also vary. Some people develop just one, while others have hundreds of tiny gallstones. It’s possible these stones can 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 pain. These are known as silent gallstones and they tend to pass easily by themselves.
Medically, gallstones are known 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 develop. These include cholesterol and pigment stones.
Cholesterol stones tend to be a yellow/green color and they are basically hardened cholesterol. In some countries, these types of gallstones are the most common.
Pigment stones on the other hand are made from bilirubin. These ones tend to be darker in color. It’s also worth noting that you can suffer with both types of gallstones at the same time.
What Causes Them?
Gallstones are thought to develop due to a chemical imbalance of the bile in the gallbladder. While the cause of this chemical imbalance isn’t known, it is thought to lead to increased cholesterol or bilirubin development.
The excess levels of cholesterol or bilirubin then turn into hard stones in the bile. While all gallstones start off tiny, some will grow slowly over time. In some cases, gallstones can grow for years before they are detected.
Can You Prevent Them?
You can’t always prevent gallstones, but some risk factors can be controlled. For example, it is known people suffering with weight issues have a higher risk of developing gallstones. So, weight management could go some way to prevent them.
Avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat will help. You’ll also want to increase your wholegrains and fresh fruit and vegetable intake. Interestingly, it is also thought that small amounts 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 significant impact on your daily life if they grow too large. For this reason, it is worth having them diagnosed by a doctor and treated 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.