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Your gall bladder is a bag -like organ which is located below the liver. It is the storehouse of digestive juices that are made by your liver. Gallstones are solid deposits of cholesterol or pigments that form in your gall bladder.
They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball and may be smooth and round or uneven with a number of edges.
You may have just one stone or hundreds of them. If left untreated, gallstones can cause a lot of complications, including ones that can be life-threatening.
Fortunately, with the advance in medicine, good treatment and speedy recovery is possible.
Your liver produces bile, a greenish-brown fluid that is necessary to help digest fats in your small intestine. This fluid which is composed of bile salts, fatty compounds, cholesterol and other chemicals, is concentrated and stored in your gall bladder. When you eat, your gall bladder releases bile which helps break down the fat in your food. But if bile within your gall bladder becomes chemically unstable, it can form into particles that in due course of time, turns hard and stone-like.
Symptoms of gallstones
In most individuals, gallstones cause no symptoms and require no treatment. You may not know you have gallstones until they are discovered during tests done for other reasons. However, in some people, gallstones can cause nausea and intense pain in the upper middle or upper right abdomen or upper back.
This can happen when a gallstone dislodges itself from the gall bladder and gets stuck in the passageway between the gall bladder and the intestine. The pain usually starts suddenly and lasts for as long as 3 hours. This is known as an " gall bladder attack." You may develop fever, chronic indigestion and your skin and the whites of your eyes may turn yellowish in color (jaundice).
Are you at risk of getting gallstones?
Some of the factors that increase the chances of developing gallstones are:
When to seek medical help
If you have gallstones but do not have any symptoms, you may not need any treatment. However if you experience any of the typical symptoms of gallstones, such as abdominal pain, yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes, dark urine and high fever with chills, see your doctor immediately. Your doctor may suggest the surgical removal of your gall bladder to prevent future attacks and to avoid complications. Talk to your doctor about the options available to you, depending on your health condition.
Most often gallstones cannot be prevented. However, a few safety measures may reduce your risk of developing gallstones. Here are a few:
Maintain healthy body weight: If you are overweight, you are at an increased risk of getting gallstones. Always maintain a healthy body weight. If you do have to lose weight, talk to your doctor about healthy ways of losing weight. Do not adopt rapid weight-loss measures, as this can also increase your risk of developing gallstones.
Maintain healthy eating habits: Healthy eating is a key to avoid most health problems—gallstones too. Consume a healthy and nutritious diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and foods rich in fiber. Cultivate the habit of drinking plenty of water. Do not eat foods that are too low in calories as this can put you at risk of getting gallstones. Similarly, foods with high fat content can also be dangerous. Besides putting you at a risk of getting gallstones, such foods can also increase your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Exercise: Regular physical activity can help prevent gallstones. Keep yourself active either through physical exercises like aerobics or by playing your favorite sport. Walking is a very good and convenient exercise. It can be done anywhere, anytime and is inexpensive. All you need is a pair of good shoes.
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