Your gallbladder is a small sac that releases bile in order to aid in digestion, but if the fluid that makes up this bile becomes too concentrated, small deposits can form. These deposits are known as gallstones, and if they block the bile ducts, they can prevent bile from being released by the gallbladder. This can cause digestion problems and a host of other issues.
If you’re over the age of 40, you may be dealing with gallstones and not even know it. Sometimes these stones are so small that they are asymptomatic, while other times they can cause a great deal of pain. Today, we’re going to take a look at the four common stages of gallstone development, and how each stage is treated.
Stage 1 – Lithogenic State
This is known as the pre-gallstone state. The conditions inside your gallbladder favor gallstone production, but nothing has formed quite yet. It’s kind of like seeing the rain clouds on the horizon, but unlike the weather, you can do something about it. Exercise and eating a healthy diet full of leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Avoid high fat diets.
Stage 2 – Asymptomatic Gallstone Formation
This is the stage we referenced above. Many people may be dealing with asymptomatic gallstone formation and not even know it. This could occur because the gallstones are very small and still able to pass through the biliary tract and be expelled, or because they aren’t causing major blockage. Most people are unaware that they are even dealing with gallstones at this point, and they are only discovered when imaging for another health condition. Treatment involves regular exercise, a healthy diet, and watchful waiting to see if the problem moves to an advanced state where a more hands-on approach is needed.
Stage 3 – Symptomatic Gallstone Formation
In the third stage, you will begin dealing with what is described as episodes of biliary colic or bile duct blockage. Your pain will not be constant, and may seem to go in waves, especially after eating a meal. If you’re experiencing pain in your abdomen and you suspect you may have gallstones, head to an endocrine specialist’s office. Some minor cases may resolve with medications, but oftentimes surgery is the preferred route.
Stage 4 – Complicated Choleithasis
Choleithasis is the medical term for gallstone development, and in the final stage the condition is complicated and potentially dangerous. The bile can’t flow out of the gallbladder which can lead to inflammation and disease. Symptoms include pain in the upper right abdomen, nausea, vomiting, indigestion and bloating. Surgery is recommended to remove the gallbladder because this not only rids the body of the stones, but it also prevents them from coming back in the future.
So if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, try to work in some regular exercise and improve your dietary choices. If your symptoms suggest that you may be dealing with a later stage, set up an appointment with an endocrine specialist like Dr. Koeplin.