Gallstones

WHAT ARE GALLSTONES?
Gallstones are hard stone-like objects that form in the gallbladder and can get stuck in the common bile duct or gallbladder itself.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
Bile duct stones happen more often in:

  • Whites, Hispanics, and Native Americans
  • Women during child-bearing years, and women who have had multiple pregnancies
  • Both men and women after age 60.
  • People who are very overweight or who have a large amount of belly fat
  • People who have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, sickle cell disease, cirrhosis, or an infection in the gallbladder or liver
  • People who have lost a lot of weight following a diet that is very low in calories and fat
  • People who have had a long term illness where you cannot eat food and need nutrition through an IV
  • People who take medicines such as estrogen, some cholesterol lowering medicines, growth hormone, and others.

If stones completely block the common bile duct, the flow of bile out of the liver can also be blocked. This causes swelling, irritation, and pain in your liver, your gallbladder, or both. If not treated, swelling can cause your gallbladder to burst, or you could get a serious infection. Both can be life-threatening.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The symptoms of bile duct stones may come on slowly over time or may happen suddenly. Early symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the upper right part of the belly, often starting after a meal with a lot of fat. The pain slowly gets worse, goes away within a few hours, and then comes back after another meal.
  • Pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades or in the right shoulder
  • Sweating, nausea, and vomiting

Later symptoms may include:

Severe, steady pain

  • Light-colored bowel movements and dark urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Chills and fever
  • Bile duct stones that block the pancreatic duct can also cause pancreatitis, which is irritation and swelling in the pancreas. The main symptom of pancreatitis is severe pain in the middle of your upper belly. If not treated quickly, pancreatitis can be life-threatening.

HOW ARE THEY DIAGNOSED?
At Gastroenterology Consultants of Greater Lowell, we are the only providers that offer the gold standard for diagnosis of bile ducts stones – endoscopic ultrasound.

Other common tests to diagnose gallstones is an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of your gallbladder and bile ducts. If the ultrasound does not clearly show the gallstones, you may have other tests or scans such as CT scans, nuclear scans, or MRI’s.

HOW ARE THEY TREATED?
Stones in the gallbladder must be removed by a surgeon, with whom we have an excellent relationship.  Usually, bile duct stones need to be removed with an endoscopic procedure called ERCP.  This is a endoscopic procedure that reduces the need for open surgery, which can be dangerous.

If you have been diagnosed with gallstones or bile duct stones, call your doctor.  You can also call us at 978-459-6737 or click here to request an appointment.