By Nico Strydom
In general, gallstones do not hold serious health risks, but can lead to other health conditions that could be life-threatening.
According to research, up to 20% of people world-wide will develop gallstones in their lifetime and not even be aware of it. In such cases gallstones hold no health risks. In other cases, it could however lead to complications that could endanger your life.
What are gallstones?
Gallstones are pieces of solid material that form in the gallbladder, a small organ just below the liver. According to Dr. Zain Ally, a surgeon who specialises in the liver and digestive tracts at the Netcare Sunninghill hospital in Johannesburg, gall is an excretion constantly produced by the liver. This is a complex system that resembles a tree with multiple branches.
According to Dr. Ally, gall contains cholesterol and certain substrata which contribute to multiple digestion processes in the body. They also help the body to eliminate toxic substances and metabolic waste. “Gallstones are solid particles that form in the gallbladder and can range in size from as small as a grain of sand to as big as a golf ball.”
How do I know I have gallstones?
The most common symptom of gallstones is a pain in the upper right-hand side of the belly shortly after a meal. This is caused by a temporary blockage of the gall exiting the gallbladder. The small stone or blockage is usually dissolved by muscle spasms and the pain disappears within a few hours.
“If, however, the blockage continues, this could lead to a more serious inflammatory reaction in the gallbladder, as the blood supply and draining are blocked. This condition can lead to gangrene of the gallbladder within a few days,” warns Dr. Ally.
The kidneys, brain, blood and cardiovascular system are affected by a lack of gall. “As soon as the flow of gall is compromised, the gall system comes under pressure and is susceptible to multiple infections, which can lead to organ failure.
If gallstones block the outflow from the gall system, it could cause pancreatitis, a condition that leads to inflammation in and around the pancreas, or jaundice. If not treated, one of these serious conditions can lead to serious and potentially fatal implications.”
Can gallstones be treated?
Dr. Ally’s advice is to obtain medical assistance if you have a tummy ache that cannot be relieved by over the counter medication, and when the pain is accompanied by fever, cold fever, vomiting and/or jaundice. If you don’t experience symptoms, treatment is not necessary.
If the gallstones become serious and the symptoms do not wane or cannot be treated successfully, it may become necessary to remove the gallbladder.
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/symptoms-causes/syc-20354214