Bile is a substance secreted (manufactured) by the liver, and stored in the Gallbladder. Every time we eat fatty substances, the gallbladder contracts (squeezes) and sends bile to the duodenum (the first of three segments of the small intestine). The role of bile is the emulsification (breakdown) of fats, so they can be readily absorbed in the small intestine.
Bile has two components, bile acids (or salts) which confers bile its digestive function, and a bile pigment known as bilirubin which gives bile its green/yellow color. Bile is composed mainly of cholesterol, bile acids (AKA bile salts), and bilirubin, and if any of the three accumulates in large quantities, they tend to crystallize and harden into stones. The majority of gallbladder stones are cholesterol stones (about 80%).
If the stones get trapped in the ducts (passages) that channel bile to the small intestine, the consequences could be painful and severe. One of the dangerous complications is Acute Hemorrhagic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Being overweight increases your chances of developing stones in the gallbladder.
Risk factors for getting gallstones include:
- Genetics. If other people in your family have had gallstones, you are at increased risk of developing gallstones.
- Obesity. This is one of the biggest risk factors. Obesity can cause a rise in cholesterol and can also keep the gallbladder from emptying completely.
- Estrogen. Estrogen can increase cholesterol and reduce gallbladder motility. Women who are pregnant or who take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy have higher levels of estrogen and may be more likely to develop gallstones.
- Ethnic background. Certain ethnic groups, including Native Americans and Mexican-Americans, are more likely to develop gallstones.
- Gender and age. Gallstones are more common among women and older people.
- Cholesterol drugs. Some cholesterol-lowering drugs increase the amount of cholesterol in bile, which may increase the chances of developing cholesterol stones.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes tend to have higher levels of triglycerides (a type of blood fat), which is a risk factor for gallstones.
- Rapid weight loss. If a person loses weight too quickly, his or her liver secretes extra cholesterol, which may lead to gallstones. Also, fasting may cause the gallbladder to contract les
Symptoms of Gallstones:
Gallstones often don’t cause symptoms. Those that don’t are called “silent stones.” A person usually learns he or she has gallstones while being examined for another illness.
When symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen and upper back. The pain may last for several hours.
- Other gastrointestinal problems, including bloating, indigestion and heartburn, and gas
Dr. Zachary Lahlou