Unrivaled Gallstones Treatments in Colorado
Locally Trusted Gallstone Experts
Gallstones are a common digestive condition that can trigger sharp pain in your upper abdomen, your back, or even under the right side of your arm. If you experience pain or think you may be suffering from a gallstone, don’t hesitate to contact the Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology Associates team. Our highly trained health team is dedicated to helping the residents of Colorado find relief from gallstones, whether that’s through treatment or undergoing preventative methods to help reduce the chance they return. We take pride in offering a full range of diagnostic and treatment options designed to get you back to living and enjoying life. Contact us to learn more about our gallstone services.
What are Gallstones?
Gallstones are formed in your gallbladder and are pebble-like pieces of concentrated and hardened bile materials. Bile is a fluid used to help your small intestine digest food and is made of cholesterol, bilirubin, bile salts, and lecithin. Usually, gallstones are made up of cholesterol or bilirubin that collects at the bottom of your gallbladder until they harden into a stone. They can either be as small as a grain of sand or up to the size of a golf ball. While the large stones can be an issue, the smaller stones are more likely to cause issues as they can travel and get lodged in a bile duct, creating a blockage. Gallstones are a common issue we see as they affect about 10% of adults, 20% of those are over the age of 65. However, only 20% of individuals diagnosed with gallstones will need treatment. There are different types of gallstones, including:
- Cholesterol Stone – These stones are usually yellow-green in coloration. Cholesterol stones are the most common and makeup roughly 80% of all gallstones.
- Pigment Stones – Pigment stones are made of bilirubin and are smaller and darker in color.
How Can Gallstones Affect Me?
Gallstones affect your gallbladder, which is part of your biliary system. Your biliary system is a network of organs passing bile between one another to either remove toxins from your body or assist in digesting food. All these organs are connected through a series of pipelines called bile ducts. If a gallstone travels from the entrance of your gallbladder into a bile duct, it can obstruct the flow of bile to and from various organs. This backup will cause bile to pool into nearby organs and your bloodstream. When the bile builds up, it creates pressure and pain in your organs, leading to inflammation. Here are some other complications that can arise from gallstones:
- Gallbladder Disease – Gallstones are the most common cause of gallbladder disease. When gallstones get stuck in your bile ducts, it can lead to inflammation. This inflammation can lead to long-term damage to your gallbladder, scarring the tissues and stopping it from functioning correctly.
- Liver Disease – Any blockage in your biliary system can lead to bile pooling in your liver. This will lead to inflammation in your liver, which can increase your risk of infection and the increased chance of long-term scarring happening. If your liver stops functioning as intended, it will break down your entire biliary system.
- Gallstone Pancreatitis – A gallstone that blocks access to the pancreatic duct will lead to inflammation in your pancreas. As with other organs, temporary inflammation causes pain, but chronic inflammation can cause long-term damage that can lead to organ failure.
- Cholangitis – Any inflammation in your bile ducts can lead to infections that can cause long-term scarring if left untreated. Scarring in your ducts can cause them to narrow, further restricting the flow of bile and increasing the chance of a blockage.
- Jaundice – Bile leaking into your bloodstream will make you sick. Bile is designed to carry toxins that your liver has filtered. The bilirubin in the bile is yellow, which will be visible in the whites of your eyes.
- Malabsorption – If bile cannot travel to your small intestine as intended, you may have difficulty breaking down and absorbing nutrients from your food. Bile is vital in breaking down fats and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins in your small intestine.
The Causes of Gallstones Explained
Almost 75% of the gallstones we remove are made of excess cholesterol. While the actual reasons are unknown, it’s known that having excess cholesterol in your blood is the leading cause of gallstones. There are a variety of reasons you may have extra cholesterol. Some of the most common reasons include metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes. Having high blood cholesterol leads to higher cholesterol content in your bile. Your liver filters cholesterol from your blood and places it in bile as a waste product before sending the bile to your gallbladder. There are chemicals in your bile that are supposed to dissolve cholesterol, but if there is too much cholesterol, your gallbladder may be unable to break down all of it.
Discover the Symptoms of Gallstones
It’s not uncommon that you’ll have no symptoms of gallstones unless one gets stuck in a bile duct and causes a blockage. When a blockage occurs, the most common symptom is abdominal pain, typically felt in the right upper quadrant of your abdomen, called biliary colic. Biliary colic episodes last several hours, usually after a large or rich meal. When that happens, your gallbladder contracts to send bile to your small intestine for digestion. The contraction forces pressure through your bile ducts which can cause pressure to build up when it meets with a blockage. There are other symptoms of gallstones include:
- Constant Pain
- Fever and Chills
- Heart Rate Accelerations
- Sunken Eyes
- Dark-Colored Urine
How are Gallstone Diagnosed?
Thankfully, there are several different ways to diagnose a gallstone. If you’re experiencing symptoms of biliary colic, our team will start with blood tests and imaging scans. Blood tests provide our doctors with your white blood cell count, which allows us to determine if there is inflammation, infection, or even jaundice. This also gives us the information needed to determine which organs are affected. Here are some additional ways we diagnose a gallstone:
- Ultrasound – This simple and non-invasive method allows us to locate any gallstones. However, ultrasounds don’t provide a great visualization of the common bile duct.
- Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) – MRCP is a specific type of MRI that visualizes bile ducts. It’s a non-invasive scan that creates precise images of your biliary system. We use this method to find a suspected gallstone.
- Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – Unlike MRCP, the ERCP is a slightly invasive method used to find gallstones and possibly remove them through a combination of x-rays and an endoscopy. A special dye is injected, which allows the x-ray to capture the dye as it moves through the ducts.
- Cholescintigraphy (HIDA Scan) – The HIDA scan can check whether your gallbladder squeezes correctly. Our team will inject a harmless radioactive material that makes its way through your gallbladder. While that’s happening, another physician will watch the movement to determine if there is inflammation due to gallstones.
Take Advantage of our Gallstone Treatments
You won’t need treatment if you don’t have any gallstone symptoms. Most patients with chronic gallstones or suffering from the first gallstone have their gallbladders removed. You can still digest food without your gallbladder. We’ll perform one of two procedures depending on the severity of the gallstone or gallbladder disease:
- Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy – This is the most common surgery for gallstones. During this procedure, tiny cuts will be made to allow a narrow tube called a laparoscope into your belly. The laparoscope contains a little light and a camera. The surgeon will use specific tools to remove the gallbladder through the other small incision. Following this procedure, you’ll be released to return home the same day.
- Open Cholecystectomy – For this procedure, larger incisions must be made to remove your gallbladder entirely. Following this surgery, you’ll be required to stay in the hospital for a few days. This surgery is needed if the patient has a bleeding disorder, severe gallbladder disease, is very overweight, or is in the last trimester of pregnancy.
Can Gallstones Go Away on Their Own?
If your gallstones aren’t causing any issues or symptoms, then there’s usually no need for you to have surgery. Surgery is only required if a stone goes into and blocks a bile duct. That’s what’s referred to as a gallbladder attack which creates an intense, knife-like pain in your abdomen that can last for several hours. Any gallstones that aren’t stuck in your bile ducts will successfully pass through into your intestines, where they will be removed from the body with other food waste.
Contact Us for Gallstone Treatments Today
Gallstones are common, and most patients will never be bothered or become aware they have them. Once a gallstone starts to move through your bile ducts, they become dangerous and pose concerns to your health. The Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology Associates team is highly trained and strives to provide exceptional care to all our patients. A gallbladder attack can be an intense and scary experience, especially if you were unaware you had gallstones. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule a consultation. We’ll be happy to help restore your gallbladder and your peace of mind.Go back