According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), ʺexperts estimate that as many as 20 million Americans have gallstones.ʺ
Gallstones develop in the gallbladder. Gallstone sizes vary. Gallstones can be as small as a tip of a pencil or as large as a plum.
There are two types of gallstones. Those types include silent gallstones and symptomatic gallstones. Silent gallstones are painless and symptomatic cause mild to severe pain.
The NIDDK states the cause of gallstones may include:
• When there are not enough bile salts to break down fat
• When bile contains more cholesterol than it can dissolve
• When the gallbladder does not contract and empty its bile regularly
• When there is too much bilirubin or other substances in the bile that causes cholesterol to form hard crystals
Symptoms of gallstones differ from person to person. The majority of people may not even have any gallstone symptoms. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) states ʺonce you have one gallbladder attack, the chance of having another one is high (about 70 percent).ʺ
Gallstone symptoms include:
• Severe pain in the upper abdomen that starts suddenly and lasts from 30 minutes to many hours
• Pain under the right shoulder or in the right shoulder blade
• Pain can also be dull, sharp or dulling
• Yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
• Clay-colored stools
• Indigestion after eating high-fat foods, such as fried foods or desserts
According to the AAFP, you are more likely to develop gallstones if you fall into one of the following categories:
• A woman
• People who have recently lost weight very quickly and are on a low-calorie diet
• Take birth control pills
• More than 60 years of age
• Overweight or obese
• American Indian or Mexican descent
• Eat a high cholesterol diet
• If you have a family history of gallstones
In an interview with MSN.com, Howard LeWine, M.D. a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and practicing internist with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, said, ʺThe one kind of diet I recommend when people have symptoms related to gallstones is a low fat diet, and I mean really low fat.ʺ
According to Dr. LeWine, a low fat diet decreases contractions of the gallbladder and may reduce future risks of a gallbladder attack. Dr. LeWine recommends not gaining or losing weight rapidly.
Please note that Dr. LeWine states a low fat diet DOES NOT dissolve gallstones.
The main treatment for gallstones is surgery. Alternatives to surgery include sound wave therapy and a pill to dissolve the gallstone(s). However, the pill is very expensive and it doesn’t work for everyone.
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Reviewed October 11, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith