What Causes Gallstones?

Pain in your upper abdominal area sent you to the doctor. You’ve been diagnosed with gallstones, and your physician at Desert West Surgery says the gallbladder needs to come out, so you’re scheduling surgery. At the same time, you may want to know more about gallstones and why they developed. You had no warning — just the sudden, sharp pain.  

What are gallstones?

Gallstones aren’t really stones; they’re two kinds of solids that form over time in your gallbladder.

The most common type of gallstones are made of cholesterol that has formed into a solid. They make up about 80 percent of gallstone cases. Pigment gallstones, the other kind, come from bilirubin, which is formed from bile. Your liver makes bile, but your gallbladder stores it.

Why did you get gallstones?

Chemicals in your gallbladder may have become unbalanced. Too much cholesterol in your bile may result in the most common type of gallstones, while too much bilirubin may result in pigment gallstones.

The jury is still out on why some people develop gallstones and others don’t. Following are several factors that likely contribute to the formation of gallstones.

Genetics

There’s a possible genetic link in play in those who develop gallstones. If people in your family have had gallstones, you may be more likely to get them, too.

Age

Gallstones are much more prevalent in people over 60. Increased amounts of cholesterol form in the bile as you get older, making gallstones more likely.

Gender

Women are twice as likely as men to develop gallstones. Pregnancy increases your risk for gallstones, as does taking estrogen for hormone replacement during menopause. In both cases, higher estrogen levels yield more cholesterol in the bile.

Being overweight and yo-yo weight cycles

If you’re overweight or obese, statistics show you’re more prone to gallstones. When you’re overweight, your liver secretes excess cholesterol, which overwhelms your bile ducts. Losing weight on a crash diet and then gaining it right back also produces excess cholesterol and increases your risk of gallstones.

Diet

Diet plays a role in the development of gallstones because it’s the major factor in what you weigh. Eating a high-fat, low-fiber diet (a lot of processed foods that come in boxes and not enough vegetables and fruits) places you at higher risk for gallstones. If you love meat and eat it all the time, you may be at higher risk because of an excess of iron.  

Medications

Ironically, medications you might be on to lower your cholesterol can actually increase cholesterol in your bile. Talk with your physician at Desert West Surgery about what medications you take.

Other health conditions

Diabetes, Crohn’s disease and other conditions such as sickle cell anemia increase your risk of developing gallstones.

Prevention

Since diet and weight play a role in the development of gallstones, it makes sense to alter your diet if you’ve been diagnosed with them. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits and less meat may lower your risk. Vegetarians have a lower incidence of gallstones than do people who eat meat.


Call Desert West Surgery today for all of your general, oncological, and colorectal surgical needs. You’re in safe hands.

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