Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gallstones: what are they and how can you prevent them?

Gall stones in the cut gall bladderImage via Wikipedia
We suffer from a number of diseases that  are brought on at least in part by the things that we eat.  One such disease is gallstones.  What are gallstones and who does it affect?

Let's find out some information about this ailment.  First, a little A & P - anatomy and physiology.

What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a pear shaped organ, just below the liver that stores and concentrates bile. Bile is secreted by the liver and travels to the gallbladder through the cystic duct for concentration (removal of water) and storage until a meal is consumed.  It then is used in the small intestine to help digest fats. 

What are gallstones?

Gallstones occur when the liver produces too much cholesterol which can clump together and cause stones.  Gallstones can form in the gallbladder, but they may also form in the intrahepatic, hepatic and common bile and cystic duct. These are all ducts that bile flows along from and through the liver (intraheptic and hepatic).  It flows towards the intestines via the common bile duct.  The cystic duct finally leads the bile to the gallbladder.


There are several types of gallstones:

1. Cholesterol.  This type occurs in 80% of cases. As mentioned previously, gallstones form when the liver secretes too much cholesterol which causes the bile to become thicker and clump together forming stones.  The stones can range in size from grains of sand to that of a golfball. They often occur in women and, are also familial.

2. Pigment - Formed from the breakdown of hemoglobin in the blood, bilirubin,

What are the causes?

Causes are:

1. Obesity
2. Women who have been pregnant.
3. Possibly linked to high fat and cholesterol meals.
4.Poor muscle tone ( It is the muscle surrounding the gall bladder that squeeze out bile into the    common bile duct when a meal is digested).
5. Rapid weight loss.
6. Increased amount of cholesterol in the bile.
7. Liver disease.
8. Cholesterol lowering drugs.

Symptoms depend on the size and location of the stones.  If the stones are located in the gallbladder, there may be no symptoms.   Complications can occur when a stone becomes lodged in a duct connecting the liver, gallbladder or pancreas to the small intestine.  This can cause pain, inflammation and infection.  If not treated, sepsis can occur and death.

Who is at risk?

People at risk are:

  1. Hispanics
  2. Native Americans
  3. People of Northern European descent
African American are at low risk.

Again, this ailment is commonly found in overweight women.

What to do for prevention?

Avoid saturated fats and meals high in cholesterol.  Consume lean meats such as chicken without the skin, lean pork, turkey and fish.  Drink plenty of water.  It is also said that bitter liquids helps in  preventing the cholesterol from clumping together.  The key here is dietary modification.

Diagnosis and treatment may be done by ultrasound and CT scan.

Sources:

"Gallstones" http://www.webmd.com/
"Gallstones" http://www.emedicine.net/







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