Do you have sudden pain and/or pain that is rapidly intensifying in the upper right side of your abdomen? What about pain in your shoulder, nausea or vomiting? All of these symptoms may be strong indicators of a gallbladder attack caused by gallstones. Such an attack can last for a few minutes or as long as several hours.
What Do You Do During a Gallstone Attack?
The first course of action (and the most important course of action, at that), would be to book an appointment with your family physician. If you do not have a family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a general practitioner from Vancouver, is available to see patients on a walk-in basis at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, BC. It is important to note, however, that this is a walk-in clinic, therefore wait times and closing times may very. To find Dr. Ali Ghahary’s walk-in hours, please visit his website at alighahary.ca/schedule. You can also find out more information by visiting the clinic at brentwoodwalk-inclinic.com and by calling them directly.
What Causes Gallstones?
There are two types of gallstones that can form: Cholesterol gallstones, which are yellow in colour, or Pigment gallstones, which are dark brown or black in colour.
While it’s not clear what, exactly, causes gallstones, healthcare professionals are under the impression that it is a combination of many different factors including too much cholesterol in your bile – resulting in the formation of crystals that then turn into stones, as well too much bilirubin – a chemical that is products when red blood cells are broken down. Gallstones can also be caused by the gallbladder not emptying itself correctly, which can also contribute to the formation of stones.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Certain individuals are at a higher risk of developing gallstones. For example, they tend to occur more frequently in females than males, as well as certain ethnicities such as Native Americans or Mexican-Americans. You’re also at an increased risk of developing gallstones if you are over the age of 40, if you are pregnant, obese, have diabetes, have a family history of diabetes, take any medications containing estrogen (i.e. birth control/oral contraceptives), have liver disease, or have an unhealthy diet (i.e. a high-fat or high-cholesterol diet.)
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Gallstones?
In order to reduce the risk of gallstones, there are certain changes you can easily implement into your life. First and foremost, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends making healthy food choices – particularly foods that are low in fat and low in cholesterol, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poulty and fish, as well as whole grains such as brown rice, bran cereal, oats and whole wheat bread. AVOID foods like chocolate, pizza, creamy sauces and soups. You can find more information on a gallbladder-specific diets by reading HealthLink BC’s ‘Eating Guidelines for Gallbladder Disease’.
It is also important to remember not to skip your meals. By skipping meals or fasting, you actually increase the risk of gallstones, as this can cause bile to build-up in your body until the next time you eat. Also, try not to eat large, heavy meals. Instead, try consuming smaller meals throughout the day. Eating smaller meals tends to minimize the risk of gallstones by constantly removing bile from the gallbladder.
While diet is the primary cause of gallbladder disease, it’s also important to try to maintain a healthy weight. Eating healthy can certainly help with weight loss as well as weight maintenance, but it doesn’t hurt to implement physical activity into your daily routine as well. More information on the many benefits of exercise can be found by visiting Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog on WordPress.
How Are Gallstones Diagnosed and Treated?
Gallstones are diagnosed based on the patient’s symptoms as well as medical imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or CT scan. Most individuals with gallstones may not even have symptoms nor need treatment. However, this is entirely dependent on how the patient feels as well as the findings of test results.
In some cases, healthcare professionals may take a ‘watch and wait’ approach for any complications to arise (i.e. intensifying pain) before deciding on treatment, while in other cases you may need to be prescribed oral medications to help dissolve the stones.
In cases where there are complications or if the gallstones keep returning, you may need surgery to have your gallbladder removed. This procedure is known as a cholecystectomy.