Right below the liver is a small sac known as the gallbladder. Its function is to hold bile until it is required. The bile helps in the digestion/breakdown of fats. When fats are noticed by the gallbladder, it pushes the bile concentrate towards the small intestine through contractions.
Bile pigment, cholesterol and calcium salts form small stone-like substances called gallstones (biliary calculi) – normally a mixture that is formed in the gallbladder. Most people (about 15 percent of individuals aged 40 years and above) are affected by this condition through common digestive system disorders.
The size of the gallstones can be as small as a sand grain or as large as a golf ball. One gallbladder can have many tiny stones, a single big stone or a mixture of big and small stones. Gallstones are known to be the cause of sharp pain in the right abdomen area. This sudden pain is called biliary colic and usually happens when the biliary tract is impeded by these gallstones.
Types of Gallstones
Three major types of gallstones are:
Cholesterol – These types of stones are mainly composed of cholesterol. Though cholesterol plays a key role in a number of metabolic processes, these stones have the capability to enlarge causing blockage in the bile ducts.
Mixed – These are the most common gallstones. They tend to form in batches.
Pigment – Certain pigments give the bile a greenish-brown color. These type of gallstones are small and numerous and are developed from the bile pigment.
What are the Risks of Having Gallstones?
In most cases, women are prone to developing gallstones than men. People who have a history of stones in their bloodline and those who are overweight are also vulnerable to gallstones.
The specific cause of gallstones is not really known. In some individuals, there is too much production of cholesterol causing the formation of cholesterol stones. Others develop the stones due to their gallbladder irregularities.
Symptoms of Gallstones
In around two thirds of the cases, no symptoms are caused by gallstones. Some symptoms are manifested as:
• Intermittent but severe pain in the back and abdomen.
• Pain in the abdomen after ingesting foods full of fats.
• The infection in the bile duct or gallbladder could cause pain and fever.
Surgeries Used in Treating Gallstones
Doctors or surgeons use various surgical methods to help treat your gallbladder. If your gallbladder is infected with gallstones and symptoms have manifested, your doctor may refer you to an abdominal surgeon for cholecystectomy as part of the treatment.
Following are the types of surgeries you may discuss with your doctor.
The surgery to get rid of the gallbladder entirely is referred as cholecystectomy. Amazingly, you do not need a gallbladder to have your food digested. It is very common in the United States for people to have this kind of operation.
A good number of surgeons prefer to remove the gallbladder via a small cut in the abdomen if there is any possibility– a procedure known as laparoscopic. It is easier and faster to recover from this kind of process.
Most patients get discharged the same day while others may stay in the hospital overnight. Nevertheless, a surgeon may decide to do an open cholecystectomy if the gallbladder cannot be reached through a laparoscopic procedure. An incision is made on the abdomen’s upper right to cut the gallbladder. This surgery is unnecessary in most cases.
It usually takes longer to heal through the cholecystectomy process as the incision made is larger.
2. Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Mostly referred as ERCP, this process is conducted when gallstones have come out of the gallbladder and invaded the bile duct. The bile duct aids in digestion by conveying bile into the small intestine.
During this procedure, a lengthy tube with a camera installed in it (an endoscope) is carefully inserted down the throat into the bile duct through the stomach. If gallstones were present, the doctor will insert an instrument into the endoscope to get rid of them. To help you relax, the doctor will give you a sedative, but you will be awake during the entire process.
This type of treatment is normally done together with cholecystectomy. It is strictly recommended to remove the gallbladder after the gallstones have been taken out to avoid further breeding.
3. Cholecystostomy (Gallbladder Draining)
This is a procedure to decompress the gallbladder. It is an invasive process. A needle is inserted through the abdomen to suck out bile from the gallbladder.
This type of treatment is recommended to people who have severe gallbladder problems and also to people with other medical issues that can compromise the gallbladder removal surgery.
Other Treatment Options
Lithotripsy - usage of high energy sound waves to drain out the stones from the gallbladder is a non-surgical technique that can be used to treat gallstones. Lithotripsy is also used to break down kidney stones.
After the operation, the patient may:
• Experience slight pain in the shoulder from the carbon dioxide gas.
• Be given pain relief drugs.
• Be asked to cough to expel the anesthetic from the lungs.
• Be asked to walk about as soon as possible.
• Be asked to stay at the hospital for a day in case of laparoscopic cholecystectomy.
• Need a week-long stay at the hospital in case of open surgery.
Post Surgery Complications
Certain complications can occur such as:
• Bile leakage into the abdomen
• Trauma to the nearby organs
• Trauma to the bile duct
• Trauma to the blood vessels
Post Surgery Self-Care
Your doctor might ask you to:
• Rest and recoup for three to five days.
• Avoid any physical exertion.
• Expect your digestive system to take time to function optimally.
You will need to visit the doctor about a week after the surgery to rule out any complications. Usually, it takes anywhere from a week to ten days to recover fully from this kind of operation.