When Do Gallstones Occur Most Often?
Gallstones occur most often in women who are overweight and have had children, for in the late stages of pregnancy cholesterol, which makes up a large proportion of gallstones, is deposited in the liver in such quantities that the organ may not be able to take it all in.
Gallstones are hard particles that develop in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located in the upper right abdomen—the area between the chest and hips—below the liver.
The liver also stores sugar, but overweight people usually take more sugar than they need. So once again the liver may not be able to cope. Lying on the underside of the liver, the gallbladder drains the bile, stores it and then conveys it to the intestines.
However, if the stones block the tube called the bile duct, or the gallbladder itself, severe pain will result. This is felt under the ribs on the right radiating up to the right shoulder, and lasts until the stone causing it passes out of the bile duct. If the stone is wedged, cholangitis or infection of the gallbladder may occur.
The treatment of cholelithiasis, or gall stones, usually necessitates an operation, for there is no known drug that can dissolve the stones. Drugs can be given to ease the pain and to relax and smooth muscles of the ducts. Often small stones cause more trouble than large ones, which stay in the gallbladder without emerging to block the bile ducts.
Gallstones can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. The gallbladder can develop a single large gallstone, hundreds of tiny stones, or both small and large stones. Gallstones can cause sudden pain in the upper right abdomen. This pain, called a gallbladder attack or biliary colic, occurs when gallstones block the ducts of the biliary tract.
Imbalances in the substances that make up bile cause gallstones. Gallstones may form if bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin, or not enough bile salts. Scientists do not fully understand why these imbalances occur. Gallstones also may form if the gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough.
The two types of gallstones are cholesterol and pigment stones:
- Cholesterol stones, usually yellow-green in color, consist primarily of hardened cholesterol. In the United States, more than 80 percent of gallstones are cholesterol stones.
- Pigment stones, dark in color, are made of bilirubin.