So what are gallstones anyway?
I get asked about gallstones a lot. Probably because they are pretty common – about 5-10% of people who are found to have them didn’t even know. Much of the time, people are told they have them after they are discovered incidentally, meaning they were seen after the person underwent some sort of imaging test (like an ultrasound, for example) for unrelated reasons.
So that’s when people end up in my office, asking me what this all means, and whether they need their gallbladders taken out.
The truth is, the majority of people with gallstones who have never had any trouble from them will go on to not have any trouble from them.
So if you’re one of those people, you’re in luck! You likely don’t need your gallbladder out. Only about a quarter of people with gallstones go on to have a gallstone attack, or what we call biliary colic. The bad news is that once you’ve had one attack, you’re likely to have another, and so that’s when we start talking about removing the gallbladder.
I know what you’re wondering now – what does biliary colic feel like? It can be different for everyone, but the classic description is intense and dull pain in the right upper abdomen or back, often accompanied by nausea or vomiting. This often starts after a meal, and lasts anywhere from half an hour up to 6 hours.
There are some unlikely complications that can ensue, which is why though most episodes of biliary colic are uncomplicated, we typically suggest an elective removal of the gallbladder.
So there you have it!
Remember to always discuss any symptoms or abnormal findings with your doctor.
Oh, and get it? They’re like houseguests – sometimes they keep quiet and mind their own business, other times they need to be surgically removed to make sure they never come back…