Gallstones can go unrecognized. For such a tiny organ, those who do experience gallbladder pain can go from not knowing it exists to being acutely aware. A lot of people have gallstones, and a lot of people don't report to have any problems with them. The stones reside in the gallbladder - a pear-shaped organ beneath the liver - and tend to not to cause complications. It's when the gallstones become stuck in the common bile duct, obstructing the flow of digestive fluids, that complications occur. There are many possible causes of gallstones.
Gallstones can be made up of either undissolved cholesterol or the excess of a substance in our bile known as bilirubin. As we said previously, most people who have gallstones will never experience gallbladder pain and will be able to live their lives ignorant of them. For those of us who aren't so lucky, gallstones can strike us when we least expect it. There are, however, several causes of gallstones that we can examine in an attempt to prevent a gallbladder attack.
Gallstones are thought to form due to chemical imbalances of the bile inside of our gallbladder. Bile is a green or dark-yellow fluid that is produced by the liver of most mammals and acts as a digestion aid in the small intestine. After bile has been produced by the liver, it then travels to the gallbladder to be stored for release. There are two types of common bile imbalance: Cholesterol and Bilirubin.
Four-in-five gallstones are made up of cholesterol, making these cholesterol-based gallstones are the most common. They appear yellow in color and form when our bile contains too much cholesterol for the liver to dissolve. When the liver excretes more cholesterol than it does bile, this imbalance tends to result in gallstones.
Also known as pigment gallstones, these rarer dark-brown-to-black gallstones are formed when our bile contains an excess of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a bile pigment that is formed during the natural breakdown of hemoglobin - more commonly known as red blood cells. If your body is producing an excess amount of bilirubin, there's a chance that you're undergoing problems with your liver. Diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver can be to blame for an excess of bilirubin, but blood disorders and tract infections have been known to cause similar results.
A bad diet is one of the most common causes of gallstones. When diagnosed with gallstones or gallbladder problems, your doctor will put you on a low-fat diet. High-fat foods are to blame for a large percentage of gallstones that eventually cause problems. Foods such as cheese, french fries, butter, bacon, and pizza can trigger a gallbladder attack. Good old cholesterol strikes again.
Somewhat linked to a high-fat or heavily-processed diet, patients who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from gallstones than healthier counterparts. While the reasons behind why obesity is a risk factor for gallstones is unclear and not yet scientifically proven, scientists believe it has a lot to do with the liver processing excess cholesterol. On the other hand, rapid weight loss can also be a causing factor.
Some organs are just structured wrongly. In some cases of gallstones, the cause can be due to a misshapen or dysfunctional gallbladder rather than any outside factors. If your gallbladder has problems functioning, a highly-concentrated build-up of bile can occur inside of and around it. Thus forming gallstones that can block the entryway from the gallbladder to the bile duct.
Genetic factors such as the way our bodies are formed or the mere make-up of our DNA can also cause gallstones. Gallstones are seen more commonly in women, for example, who are twice as likely to suffer with them than men. This is because too much estrogen can increase levels of cholesterol in the bile, which can then form gallstones. Doctors will tend to ask you whether or not you have a family history of gallbladder problems or gallstones. Unfortunately, gallbladder diseases can be genetic.
There are several risk factors for gallstones that are, largely, out of our control. Some of these risk factors are:
While you can't do anything to prevent the aforementioned risk factors, there are steps you can take to try to prevent gallstones. Some of the steps that you can take to change your chances are:
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