Ugh! About 10-15 % of the adult US population gets gallstones. If symptomatic, this leads to hospitalization and gallbladder removal.
What is the gallbladder? It stores bile which is released by the gallbladder after a meal to help digest the food. During a meal, the gallbladder squeezes bile into the small intestine to aid in digestion.
What are gallstones? Just like in chemistry (which I recall from my early college days), when there is too much of a precipitate, it changes from a liquid to a solid. 80-90% of gallstones are made of cholesterol. And, these solid gallstones can obstruct the bile duct.
What are gallstone symptoms? 80% of people with gallstones have no symptoms. Gallstones may be found incidentally on ultrasound or CT scan. Symptomatic patients experience abdominal pain occurring under the right ribs after a fatty meal. Nausea, vomiting, right shoulder or back pain can also be present. If the gallbladder becomes completely obstructed with gallstones, this may cause excruciating pain and require hospitalization.
How are gallstones diagnosed? The best test is an ultrasound (just like looking at a baby on a prenatal ultrasound).
Who gets gallstones? The way I was taught in medical school was forty, fat, and female and indeed these are all still risk factors today. In addition, taking estrogen or rapid weight loss or diabetes are also risk factors.
How to treat gallstones? It depends on the size and type of the stone. Ursodiol is a medicine which at times can be used to dissolve cholesterol stones. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is at times needed. This is most often done laparoscopically (with instruments placed inside the abdomen through small incisions) which aids in fast recovery. After the gallbladder is removed, some patients battle diarrhea and bloating. Most of these symptoms resolve with time.
Hope this helps.