I have heard of many people who have suffered from gallstones for years. But I have never really understood what gallstones are until I rushed my brother to the hospital one evening, who was diagnosed a little later to have the condition. Everything I needed to know about the then condition of my brother was carefully and patiently explained to me by his doctor.
Gallstones (medical term: cholelithiasis) are often associated with a level of cholesterol in the bile that is higher than normal. With the kind of diet I know my brother was having, it wasn’t surprising for me at all why he got afflicted with this condition.
The gallstones taken from him were examined and were found to contain cholesterol from fats that were determined to be of animal origin. His doctor explained that it is very rare for gallstones to be formed from fats that are derived from vegetables.
This implies that keeping the animal fats in the diet low should help prevent gallstones. But the body is also capable of producing cholesterol out of fats which do not contain it. Therefore, keeping all fats low is the best dietary factor in preventing gallstones.
Gallstones usually develop in the gallbladder as a result of an inflamed gallbladder wall. They may also form in the liver’s tiny bile ducts, although this is very seldom. One of the most common symptoms of gallstones is flatulence – the condition marked by gas produced in the intestine or stomach.
However, it is possible for gallstones to be in progress for years without causing symptoms. There are some gallstone patients who never experience pain (like my brother, until that particular night), although most of them experience a feeling of distress right after eating. Others may suffer from gallstone colic – an attack of acute abdominal pain.
Apart from the amount of fatty foods a person eats, there are other causes of gallstones. In overweight people, for example, gallstones are usually caused by the repeated seesawing between eating sparingly (as in dieting) and weight gain. Other probable causes are estrogen levels which may explain why women are more likely to develop gallstones than men.
The pain that is caused by the presence of gallstones pales in comparison with that caused by the condition called gallstone colic. In this condition, stones pass down the bile ducts to the intestine, causing severe pain. The affected person perspires profusely with each fit of pain. The attacks last for a few minutes, often recurring for hours or even days. Gallstone colic may also be accompanied by chills and fever.
There is no known medicine that can dissolve gallstones inside the gallbladder or make them pass out of it. Doctors normally recommend surgical removal of gallstones if these are found. This is particularly necessary to prevent further stone formation. In the case of patients who are obese, it is important that they reduce their weight if surgery is not done. But obese or not, the patient’s diet should be low in all fats.