Gallstones occur when bile forms solid particles (stones) in the gallbladder.
- The stones form when the amount of cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile is high.
- Other substances in the bile may promote the formation of stones.
- Pigment stones form most often in people with liver disease or blood disease, who have high levels of bilirubin.
- Poor muscle tone may keep the gallbladder from emptying completely. The presence of residual bile may promote the formation of gallstones.
Risk factors for the formation of cholesterol gallstones include the following:
- female gender,
- being overweight,
- losing a lot of weight quickly on a "crash" or starvation diet, or
- taking certain medications such as birth control pills or cholesterol lowering drugs.
Gallstones are the most common cause of gallbladder disease.
- As the stones mix with liquid bile, they can block the outflow of bile from the gallbladder. They can also block the outflow of digestive enzymes from the pancreas.
- If the blockage persists, these organs can become inflamed. Inflammation of the gallbladder is called cholecystitis. Inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis.
- Contraction of the blocked gallbladder causes increased pressure, swelling, and, at times, infection of the gallbladder.
When the gallbladder or gallbladder ducts become inflamed or infected as the result of stones, the pancreas frequently becomes inflamed too.
- This inflammation can cause destruction of the pancreas, resulting in severe abdominal pain.
- Untreated gallstone disease can become life-threatening, particularly if the gallbladder becomes infected or if the pancreas becomes severely inflamed.
Gallstones and Diet
The role of diet in the formation of gallstones is not clear.
- We do know that anything that increases the level of cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of gallstones.
- It is reasonable to assume that a diet with large amounts of cholesterol and other fats increases the risk of gallstones, but it is also important to remember that the amount of cholesterol in your bile has no relationship to your blood cholesterol.
- Losing weight rapidly seems to increase the risk of gallstones and so does skipping meals.
- Obesity is a risk factor for gallstones.
- Eating a fatty or greasy meal can precipitate the symptoms of gallstones.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/6/2016
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