When anyone comes into Perth Allied Health Clinic, we go through a rigorous screening process to determine the cause of a person’s problem. A lot of our patient’s come in with a specific pain or problem, although many are in the clinic to help keep their spine and body healthy and functioning at their best! Occasionally someone will come in with a problem that needs referral. Our chiropractors and physiotherapists are trained to pick this up and refer as needed.
The gallbladder is a small organ below the liver in the upper part of the abdomen on the right side. It is a small organ that stores bile, a green-yellow liquid that has important functions when it comes to digestion. Most gallstones form when there is too much fat (cholesterol) in the bile.
Where do they come from?
Studies show that 80% of gallstones are made of cholesterol. The other 20 percent of gallstones are made of calcium salts and bilirubin. Like a lot of things relating to the human body, we do not know exactly what causes them, but there are some ideas:
- Over amount of cholesterol in the bile – Too much cholesterol. Your liver makes too much, and the gallbladder cannot dissolve it.
- Over amount of Bilirubin in the bile – Bilirubin is the result of your liver destroying old red blood cells. Liver damage and certain blood disorders can cause an oversupply of bilirubin. The gallbladder cannot break down the excess bilirubin.
- Full gallbladder resulting in concentrated bile – Your gallbladder needs to empty its bile to be healthy and to function properly. If it cannot get rid of the excess, you form stones.
What do gallstones feel like?
Gallstones can lead to pain in the upper right abdomen. You will usually get pain directly after eating fatty foods. The pain does not usually last more than a few hours. Other symptoms may include: nausea, vomiting, dark urine, clay-coloured stools, stomach pain, burping, diarrhea and indigestion.
It is important to know that gallstones do not actually cause the pain. Pain starts when bile cannot move from the gallbladder. A lot of people may have gallstones and not have any symptoms. Another problem associated with gallstones is the development of acute cholecystitis. Therefore, it is important to refer as soon as they are detected.
Risk factors for gallstones!
Many risk factors for gallstones are related to diet, while some factors are uncontrollable. Uncontrollable risk factors are things like age (over 60), gender (female), and family history, which cannot be changed.
Lifestyle risk factors include being overweight or obese, eating a diet that is high in fat or low in fibre. Having rapid weight loss or diabetes. Other medical factors may include liver cirrhosis, pregnancy, and certain medications.
How they are diagnosed?
If your chiro or physio suspects that your stomach pain may be gallstones, we will usually refer to your GP. They generally order a series of tests, ultrasound, Xray or CT and blood tests. Once confirmed treatment will be specific to the problem.
The stones may need to be removed by surgery or medication. But often a change in lifestyle is recommended as a minimum. Maintain a healthy weight, avoid rapid weight loss (slow and consistent weight loss is always recommended), eat an anti-inflammatory diet and get regular exercise. You will find our chiropractors and physiotherapists constantly talk about these anyway.
Sometimes surgery is the final option, but we will generally collaborate with your GP to get you the best outcome.
What is the long-term prognosis?
Surgery to remove your gallbladder or any stones in your gallbladder will generally result in no return of stones. Obviously if the gallbladder is removed rather than drained this will be the case.
Without surgery, the gallstones can return. Medications may only be partially effective. Lifestyle change is essential to a good long-term outcome. As we constantly say, prevention is better than cure and do not just deal with the symptoms!
We are a team of chiros and physio’s who want the best for our patients. We will always assess you thoroughly to look for the underlying cause of your complaint!