August 01, 2019

Gallstones

A plan of attack

You try to stick to a healthy diet. Still, lately it seems that a couple of hours after eating any fatty food, you're met with abdominal discomfort.

Gallstones are common, affecting up to 25% of people. While only one third of people with gallstones will ever experience pain from a gallstone blockage, those who do often struggle with maintaining their quality of life and may be at risk of dangerous complications.

How gallstones develop

Your gallbladder rests in the upper right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver. The gallbladder stores a fluid that breaks down fats and aids in digestion (bile). If the composition of bile — including cholesterol and a substance made during the normal breakdown of red blood cells (bilirubin) — becomes imbalanced, hardened deposits of these materials may form. These are gallstones. The stones may be solitary or develop in groups, and they can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball.

Your risk of gallstones increases if you're over age 40, particularly if you're female. Other risk factors include Native American or Mexican American heritage or a family history of gallstones. Certain health conditions — cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes or Crohn's disease — increase your risk. So does having high triglycerides or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or the "good") cholesterol.

Weight in particular affects your risk of gallstones. You're more likely to develop gallstones if you're obese — especially if you're female. People who experience fast weight loss, such as from weight-loss...