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Gallstones: An Often-Overlooked Cause of Digestive Discomfort

Digestive problem
The gallbladder is a small, elastic pouch that collects bile produced in the liver and then deposits that bile, as needed, into your small intestine. In some individuals, crystals, known as gallstones, develop inside the gallbladder. Because the symptoms of gallstones often mimic those of other digestive ailments, this problem is often overlooked until it becomes very serious. 
Overlooked gallstones can cause more serious illness, such as a gallbladder infection or rupture. For that reason, every patient should know the basics about gallstones, symptoms of gallstones, and treatment for gallstones.

How Common Are Gallstones?

Gallstones are not a rare problem; about 30 million Americans have them. Many of these adults will never have symptoms, but many others do have symptoms and have not yet realized their symptoms are due to gallstones. 

Who Is at Risk for Gallstones?

Women are about three times as likely as men to develop gallstones between the ages of 20 and 60. Although anyone can develop gallstones, they are most common in people with diabetes, people who have rapidly lost a lot of weight, and people who eat diets high in cholesterol. If you have a family history of gallstones, you are more likely to develop them.

What Are the Overlooked, Early Signs of Gallstones?

There are people with gallstones who experience no symptoms, and therefore do not require treatment. However, there are also patients who suffer with gallstone symptoms for years and don't get the relief they deserve because they mistake their symptoms for those of other causes. The following are three oftenoverlooked symptoms of gallstones.
Abdominal Pain
Patients with gallstones often experience abdominal cramping and pain after eating. The cramping is often worst after a fatty meal. People often assume the fat has upset their stomach. Women may even mistake the cramping for menstrual pain. When the discomfort is centralized to the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, however, it is often due to gallstones.
Heartburn
Acid reflux into the esophagus after eating occurs occasionally even in healthy patients. However, if you are consistently developing heartburn after meals, gallstones may be to blame.
Dark Urine
When a gallstone becomes particularly large, it may begin to block the bile duct, which is the duct that carries bile from the gallbladder to your small intestine. When the bile duct is blocked, bilirubin - a component of bile - builds up in your gallbladder, and eventually in the bloodstream. Your kidneys filter out this extra bilirubin and excrete it in your urine, which makes your urine appear dark.
Unfortunately, some people assume their dark urine is simply due to dehydration. If your dark urine persists even when you've been drinking plenty of fluids, then you may have a problem with your gallbladder - especially if your stools are simultaneously light-colored.

What Should You Do if You Think You Have Gallstones?

If you suspect that your long-ignored digestive ailments may be due to gallstones, make an appointment with a gastroenterologist. Gallstones are fairly easy to diagnose with an ultrasound or abdominal CT scan.
 
If you do, in fact, have gallstones, your doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder. Today, most gallbladder surgeries are performed laproscopically through several small incisions. Patients typically go home a day or two after surgery, and serious complications are rare. Following surgery, you will have to make some simple modifications to your diet, such as avoiding high-fat foods and eating more fiber.
 
Don't continue to suffer with unexplained digestive pain like so many other adults with gallstones. Contact the experts at Digestive Disease Consultants to schedule an appointment. We specialize in diagnosing and treating digestive ailments with the latest available technology.