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Gallstones: Risk Factors Explained

Gallstones are usually made of cholesterol and are formed in the gallbladder. Four out of five gallstones are composed of cholesterol. In most cases, they show no symptoms. Gallstone disease is one of the most common and costly of all digestive diseases.

According to the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 6.3 million men and 14.2 million women aged between 20 and 74 in the United States were diagnosed with gallbladder disease.

The gallstone disease shows symptoms only when complications occur. For instance, if a gallstone becomes trapped in an opening inside the gallbladder, it may trigger sudden intense abdominal pain which lasts for about one to five hours. This abdominal pain is called biliary colic.

Cholelithiasis is the medical term for complications and symptoms related to gallstones. Sometimes, gallstone disease can cause inflammation of gallbladder. This condition is called cholecystitis and can cause jaundice with a high temperature fever and persistent pain. At times, a gallstone may move into the pancreas making it inflamed and thus causing irritation. This condition is known as acute pancreatitis.

Role of Gallbladder

The small, pouch-like organ situated underneath the liver, that stores and concentrates bile (a digestive liquid produced by the liver) is known as gallbladder. The main purpose of gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile. Bile is a liquid produced by the liver to help digest fats. It is passed from the liver through a series of channels, called bile ducts, into the gallbladder. When required, the gallbladder releases bile into the digestive system to ease the process of digestion.

Due to an imbalance in the chemical makeup of bile, gallstones are born. It is still a mystery what leads to this chemical imbalance but it is clear that gallstones may form in two ways:

  1. When unusually high levels of cholesterol are found inside the gallbladder, the excess cholesterol gradually solidifies to form a stone
  2. When unusually high levels of bilirubin are found inside the gallbladder; when red blood cells are broken down, bilirubin is produced as a waste product (the remaining one out of five gallstones is made up of bilirubin)

 Gallstones Risk Factors

Gallstones are more common in the following groups:

  1. Women, particularly those that have had multiple pregnancies
  2. Obese people – people who are overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above
  3. People who are 40 years of age or over (the older you are, the more likely you are to develop gallstones)
  4. People with cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  5. People with the digestive disorders Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  6. People with a family history of gallstones (around a third of people with gallstones have a close family member who has also had gallstones)
  7. People who have recently lost weight, either as a result of dieting or weight-loss surgery such as gastric banding
  8. People who are taking a medication called ceftriaxone, which is an antibiotic used to treat a range of infections, including pneumonia, meningitis and gonorrhoea

Women who are taking the combined oral contraceptive pill or undergoing high-dose oestrogen therapy (which is sometimes used to treat osteoporosis, breast cancer and the menopause) also have an increased risk of developing gallstones.

Other Risk Factors of Gallstones

People having Type II diabetes are prone to gallstones. People with sedentary lifestyles who lack regular exercise are also susceptible to gallstone disease.

If you think you might have gallstones, contact us at Credihealth to help you find the right doctor!