Gallbladder Symptoms: Why Do Gallstones Cause Pain?
In order to understand gallbladder symptoms experienced by so many people, it is helpful to first understand what exactly gallstones are.
Gallstones consist of crystallized deposits made up of digestive fluid and cholesterol that form in the gallbladder.
They usually develop when elements of bile, especially cholesterol and bilirubin, become overly concentrated and form stones. Gallstones can vary in size from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball.
Although gallstones may impact anyone, there are certain people who are at a higher risk for developing them.
Most commonly gallstones are found among those who:
- Have a family history of gallstones
- Are overweight, or experience rapid weight loss over a short time period
- Consume a diet high in fried food, saturated fat and cholesterol, without enough fibre
- Are taking medications to lower cholesterol levels
- Are pregnant or taking birth control pills/ hormone replacement therapy
- Are over the age of 40
Gallstones are more common for women than men, and many people who have them do not experience any gallbladder symptoms and don’t require any treatment.
However, in cases where a gallstone moves into one of the bile ducts, it may cause a blockage, and this results in significant pain because the normal flow of bile from the gallbladder has been obstructed. This condition is referred to as biliary colic and also commonly known as a gallbladder attack. Such an attack is characterized by severe pain, lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.
In a healthy functioning gallbladder, bile is secreted into the common bile duct, through to the small intestine. However, when there is an obstruction, such as that caused by gallstones, the gallbladder becomes inflamed and bile is unable to flow normally. Due to this obstruction, pain can also result because of bile backing up into the gallbladder, as the gallbladder swells. This gallbladder symptom causes spasms and inflammation known as cholecystitis.
When cholecystitis occurs, it is usually very painful. Sufferers generally experience pain in the upper right area of the abdomen shortly after eating and at night. The pain may radiate to the back and shoulder blades which can be a confusing symptom for many. There are nerves surrounding the affected area and when swelling occurs due to a blockage, pressure on the nerves will amplify and spread to other areas on that nerve path.
Aside from pain, chronic blockages due to gallstones can begin to cause serious medical issues. When bile ducts are blocked, stools can change color and become light or chalky in nature. In certain cases, when gallstones are obstructing the bile duct, bile is forced to back up into the liver and seep into the bloodstream resulting in jaundice, (yellow skin) and dark urine, due to excess bilirubin excreted there. Given the host of problems and pain they can cause, gallbladder symptoms indicate significant disruption to the digestive system.
Thankfully, there are some natural ways you can reduce the risk of developing gallstones.
Making wise choices to reduce the intake of deep-fried, greasy and spicy foods, while replacing them with healthier options such as healthy fats, fruit and vegetables is a great first step.
An active lifestyle including regular physical activity is another way to keep the digestive system running smoothly and boost the health of the liver.
This also benefits hormonal balance, reducing inflammation and maintaining a healthy body weight, without the need to dramatically cut calories with crash diets.