Your gallbladder is part of your digestive system, storing bile that was formed by your liver and then releasing the bile into the small intestine to aid in digestion. If the bile becomes too concentrated, contains too much cholesterol, or contains too much bilirubin (a residual from red blood cells), then gallstones can form in your gallbladder.
These stones can cause abdominal pain, back pain, or even shoulder pain. Let’s talk about the types of gallstones, how they form from bile, and where you can go to have an evaluation and possible treatment.
What Is Bile?
Bile, which is also sometimes called gall, is a yellow-green liquid that is created by the liver in order to help your small intestine digest fats. When you eat, your gallbladder releases some bile into your small intestines.
Bile is composed of cholesterol, bilirubin, bile salts, amino acids (protein), metals, enzymes, and vitamins. Increased amounts of these chemicals in your gallbladder can be harmful and can induce gallstones.
Cholesterol gallstones are the most common type of gallstones, comprising approximately 80% of gallstone cases. Usually, cholesterol gallstones appear yellowish.
If the cholesterol in your bile is too much for your body to process, the undissolved cholesterol can form into gallstones. The stones can cause complications such as gallbladder inflammation and obstruction.
Pigment gallstones can form in the gallbladder when there’s too much bilirubin, which is a chemical that is created when your body breaks down red blood cells. They are called “pigment” gallstones because they’re usually brown or black in color.
When your body breaks down too much hemoglobin from the blood, bilirubin is secreted at high levels and can even leak into your bloodstream. Excess bilirubin in your bloodstream can cause jaundice, which can cause your skin and/or eyes to have a yellowish hue. An unhealthy liver, cirrhosis of the liver, and sickle cell anemia are risk factors for black pigment gallstones.
When your gallbladder has trouble emptying bile into your duodenum and small intestine, mixed gallstones may form. These stones develop due to excess cholesterol, bilirubin, and salts such as calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, and calcium palmitate.
Gastrointestinal Care in Austin, TX
A variety of factors, including diet and pre-existing health conditions, can cause your gallbladder to form cholesterol gallstones, pigment gallstones, or mixed gallstones. Our experienced medical team here at Austin Gastroenterology includes gastrointestinal physicians who can efficiently diagnose the cause of your abdominal pain or discomfort and recommend treatment that will work for you.
Gallbladder removal surgery is usually a quick outpatient procedure that will help you find relief from the pain and discomfort your gallstones have been causing. If this is the recommended treatment and you would like to have this done, your body will no longer miss your gallbladder – the bile will simply empty directly from the liver into the intestine. No more awkward aches and pains.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment with one of our world-class physicians, call us at our location near you or fill out our easy-to-use appointment request form now. We look forward to being your partner in digestive health!