What Causes Gallstones (And What Can You Do About Them)?

stomach pain

Anyone who has had a gallstone knows it can be extremely painful, and would undoubtedly prefer not to have to go through it again. Those who have been fortunate enough to escape this agony surely would like to continue avoiding the problem. Whichever camp you’re in, here’s a list of the main causes of gallstones, their risk factors, and steps you can take to prevent these painful formations from tormenting you.

Causes

Your gallbladder is an organ near your liver that holds digestive fluid, called bile, which is released into your small intestine to help with digestion. Gallstones are hardened deposits of this fluid, and while causes aren’t completely known, there are three main reasons why gallstones are believed to form:

  • There is too much cholesterol in your bile. Your bile normally dissolves the cholesterol excreted by your liver, but if there is more cholesterol than your bile is able to dissolve, the excess may form into hardened crystals, and eventually into stones.
  • Your bile has an abundance of a chemical called bilirubin. Your body produces bilirubin when breaking down red blood cells, but certain conditions and blood disorders can cause your liver to make too much of the chemical, and the excess can develop into stones.
  • Your gallbladder is full. A healthy and properly functioning gallbladder empties bile regularly, but if it doesn’t empty completely or often enough, bile may become very concentrated, which can result in the formation of stones.

Risk Factors

  • Genetics. Not exactly what you want to hear, we know, but unfortunately the formation of gallstones can run in the family. Your genes may simply make you prone to the problem, or are the source of hereditary conditions that make you more susceptible to gallstone formation.
  • Age, Gender, & Ethnicity. There are a few other risk factors that are out of your control. For instance, women, especially when pregnant, and people over 40 have an increased chance of developing gallstones, as do Native and Mexican Americans.
  • Certain Conditions & Medication. Those with diabetes or liver disease are at a higher risk for gallstone formation and taking medications to lower cholesterol or medications that contain estrogen, like hormone therapy drugs or oral contraceptives, can also increase your chances.
  • Weight & Fitness Level. Being overweight or obese and being sedentary can be double trouble, significantly increasing your odds of experiencing gallstones.

Prevention

Here’s the good news: Risk factors related to diet and exercise are things you can control. A low-fat, low-cholesterol, and high-fiber diet will decrease your odds of stone formation. A regular exercise routine will also help, and incorporating both a healthy diet and exercise into your daily life will combat excessive weight and obesity. Be careful, though. Skipping meals and losing weight too quickly can end up increasing your odds rather than reducing them. Go slow!

It’s important to note that not everyone who has gallstones experiences symptoms, but those who do typically require gallbladder removal surgery to rid them of their pain. Knowing what’s behind these pesky formations can help you to avoid them as much as possible, and taking steps to eat healthy and stay active is not only a good deterrent for gallstones, it’s good for your overall health.

If you have any questions or want to find out more about gallbladder surgery, contact MSA General Surgery, and we will be happy to help.

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