Gallstones are hard masses composed of digestive fluid that develops inside the gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ located under the liver, towards the right side of the abdomen. It contains the digestive fluid known as bile which is released into the small intestine. Gallstones are a common problem. Some gallstones may not lead to any symptoms and therefore do not require treatment. However in some cases, surgery may be needed to remove gallstones. They can range in size and some people may develop more than one gallstone.
Symptoms of Gallstones
There are two types of gallstones, cholesterol gallstones and pigment gallstones. Cholesterol gallstones are the most common and are made up of cholesterol and certain other components. These gallstones appear yellow in color. Pigment gallstones develop when there are high levels of bilirubin in the bile. They appear black or brown in color.
In many cases gallstones do not produce any discernible signs or symptoms. But in case a gallstone obstructs the bile duct, certain problems may occur. The common symptoms of gallstones include:
- Sudden onset of pain that may just as suddenly increase in severity. The pain is mainly felt in the right side of the abdomen.
- Pain which intensifies in the middle of the abdomen.
- Pain in the back, in the area between the shoulder blades
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Pain that begins some time after consuming a fatty meal
- Nausea or vomiting
The pain caused by gallstones may last for a few minutes to some hours. It is important to seek medical attention in case you experience any signs of gallstones. Seek medical care immediately if the pain becomes very severe, if the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow or if you develop fever and chills.
Causes of Gallstones
The exact causes of gallstones are unclear. Some possible causes of gallstones include:
- Gallstones may form when there is too much cholesterol in the bile. Under normal circumstances the cholesterol excreted by the liver can be easily dissolved by the chemicals present in bile. But if there is excessive excretion of cholesterol, it may form crystals and become stones.
- High levels of bilirubin can lead to formation of gallstones. Bilirubin is a type of chemical which is made when the red blood cells are broken down. Conditions such as blood disorders, infection of the biliary tract and liver cirrhosis can lead to an excess production of bilirubin.
- In case the gallbladder is not able to empty often enough or if it is unable to empty completely, there may be a concentration of bile. This may lead to gallstones.
Certain factors can elevate a persons risk of developing gallstones. These include:
- Female gender
- Older age
- Consumption of a high fiber, high fat or high cholesterol diet
- Family history of the condition
- Rapid weight loss
- Intake of medications to lower cholesterol
- Intake of medications containing estrogen
Gallstones can lead to certain complications such as:
- Inflammation The gallbladder can become inflamed in case a gallstone causes an obstruction. This can lead to intense pain and fever.
- Blockage Gallstones can obstruct the bile ducts and this can lead to infection and jaundice. The pancreatic duct can also get blocked due to gallstones. This can lead to inflammation of the pancreas and severe abdominal pain.
- Cancer Those who frequently have gallstones may be at a higher risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
Remedies for Gallstones
Some gallstones may not trigger any symptoms and may only be detected during an ultrasound. No treatment is required in such cases. However it is important to watch out for signs and symptoms so that you can receive early treatment. If no treatment is recommended you can try some natural home remedies for gallstones, but do keep in mind that most of these remedies are simply speculative and most are not backed by scientific research. For this reason it would be best to consult with your doctor before trying any kind of home treatment.
- Drink four tablespoons of lemon juice every day on an empty stomach. Continue this treatment for a week. It will help to eliminate the gallstones. Also drink plenty of water so that the process of flushing out the gallstones becomes easier.
- Combine the juice of cucumber, carrots and beets and drink twice daily.
- Olive oil and sunflower oil constitute an effective natural treatment for gallstones. Combine 30ml each of unrefined olive and sunflower oil. You can then drink about 120 ml of grapefruit juice. Do this for a few days to purge the gallstones.
- Pears are known to help in providing gallstone pain relief. Eating pears helps to soften the gallstones.
- Herbal extracts work well in treating gallstones. St. Johns Wort is a popular herb which you can prepare into a tea. Drink a cup of the tea several times daily. To make the tea, add a cup of boiling water to four or five leaves.
- Drink apple juice for a couple of days and then consume about three ounces of fresh lemon juice and three ounces of olive oil. You should be able to pass the stones with the help of this treatment.
- Citrus fruits contain pectin which is helpful in treating the problem of gallstones.
- The herb quebra pedra can be made into a tea and consumed for relief from gallstone symptoms. Add a couple of teaspoons of the herbal extract to 500ml of water. Continue the treatment for a month.
- The endive plant is believed to aid in regulating bile secretion. The seeds or roots of the plant may be used to prepare a decoction for gallstone removal.
- Add some honey to one teaspoon of turmeric and consume daily.
- Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to apple juice and drink. This relieves gallstone pain.
- To alleviate the pain and discomfort, place a hot pack on the abdomen.
- Artichoke leaf extracts are believed to help in preventing the formation of gallstones.
- The herbs milk thistle and dandelion contain certain compounds which aid in flushing out gallstones. You can use these herbs in the form of tincture or tea.
- Oregon grape can be mixed with dandelion and milk thistle to regulate bile production. This herb also has a soothing effect when combined with slippery elm and chamomile. Oregon grape is helpful in relieving inflammation of the gallbladder.
- Rosemary is another important herb which helps to treat gallstones. It improves bile production and prevents spasms in the bile duct. It also helps in the breakdown of fats.
- To increase the flow of bile, use the herb wild yam. It relieves spasms of the bile duct and reduces pain.
- Epsom salts enable the gallstones to pass easily through the bile duct. Add one teaspoon of Epsom salts to warm water and drink at night.
- Caffeine is known to prevent gallstones from forming. Two to three cups of coffee a day may help to reduce the risk of gallstones.
- Dietary fiber helps to regulate metabolism and aids in the removal of cholesterol from the body. Consume high fiber cereals or while grain breads.
Diet for Gallstones
One of the best ways to treat gallstones and also prevent them forming in the future is to follow a proper diet. The diet for gallstones should be high in water soluble fiber as it helps to regulate digestion. Here are some helpful dietary tips for gallstones:
- Grains are an extremely healthy addition to the diet. Add foods such as whole grain breads, bran flakes, whole wheat cereals, brown rice and whole grain pasta to your diet. This will help to flush out waste material from your system.
- Water soluble fiber is found in fruits such as blueberries, oranges, strawberries and blackberries. It is also contained in dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and raisins. You should eat about two to four servings of fruits every day.
- Include in your diet vegetables such as kidney beans, green beans, broccoli and corn. It is advisable to have about three to five servings of vegetables daily.
- It is important to know which foods can trigger an episode of gallstones. These foods include onions, eggs, salty foods, cows milk, sugary foods, spicy foods, alcohol and processed foods.
Suggestions for Gallstones
To reduce the risk of developing gallstones, follow these tips.
- Avoid skipping your meals. Eat your meals at fixed timings every day.
- If you are overweight, try to lose weight in a gradual and steady manner. Sudden weight loss can elevate the risk of gallstones. You should lose not more than one to two pounds a week.
- Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of gallstones. Therefore it is important to maintain healthy weight. Watch your calorie intake and ensure that you follow a regular exercise program. Once you reach your ideal body weight, you can maintain it by sticking to a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.
- Consult your doctor if you experience any of the signs and symptoms of gallstones such as abdominal pain or pain in the back or right shoulder.
- Alan F. Hofmann, Primary and secondary prevention of gallstone disease: Implications for patient management and research priorities, The American Journal of Surgery, Volume 165, Issue 4, April 1993, Pages 541-548, ISSN 0002-9610, 10.1016/S0002-9610(05)80958-4.
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