Why Choose Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital for Gallbladder and Bile Duct Stones Treatment?
At Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, our highly skilled gastroenterologists are well trained in assessing and treating patients with gallbladder and bile duct stones. Our team of experts will offer you guidance and counseling so you can fully understand your condition and what your best treatment options are.
The gallbladder is a small organ that stores a substance produced by the liver, called bile. This small organ is shaped like a balloon and releases bile into the small intestine during meals in order to help with digestion. Bile ducts are small tubes that transport the bile from the liver into the gallbladder and from the gallbladder into the small intestine. When stones are formed in the gallbladder, there’s a high risk that they will migrate into one of the bile ducts, causing blockages.
Gallbladder stones, or cholelithiasis, and bile duct stones, or choledocholithiasis, result from the formation of stones that form in the gallbladder that migrate towards the bile ducts, where their blockages can cause severe symptoms. Stones that form in the gallbladder can have various shapes and sizes and consist mostly of calcium, cholesterol and bile pigments, or bilirubin.
More than 10 percent of the population has gallstones, and about 15 percent of those who have gallstones will also have bile duct stones.
Surgical Procedures Performed at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital for Gallbladder and Bile Duct Stones
As the gallbladder is not an essential organ, it is very common, when dealing with gallbladder stones, for the gallbladder to be completely removed. The surgical procedure of removing the gallbladder is called cholecystectomy, and it is considered extremely efficient. Gallbladder removal surgery is only recommended when the patient has severe symptoms because its removal can have some unpleasant consequences, such as chronic diarrhea, pain in the upper abdomen or constant gastrointestinal problems caused by the postcholecystectomy syndrome. Some of the most common surgical procedures are:
- Laparotomy: This procedure is a relatively outdated type of cholecystectomy, and requires general anesthesia because it consists of a large incision in the abdominal wall and the abdominal muscle in order to facilitate access to the abdominal cavity. This surgery is associated with a long period of recovery, and a large number of possible complications, such as hemorrhage, pain, infections or damaged organs.
- Laparoscopic cholecystectomy: This is a newer procedure and consists of three or four small incisions, through which a camera and the surgical instruments are inserted. It is considered less invasive than the laparotomy and has fewer side effects and a shorter recovery period.
- Endoscopic biliary sphincterotomy: This is a complex procedure recommended for the extraction of gallstones and bile duct stones and consists of an incision through the biliary sphincter. This procedure is considered less invasive as it is performed through an endoscope and on an outpatient basis.
Drugs and Other Treatments Needed for Gallbladder and Bile Duct Stones
The most common treatment methods for gallstones and bile duct stones are the surgical procedures. However, there are certain medications and non-operative procedures that can help dissolve the stones that are generally prescribed to people who cannot undergo surgery. Additionally, some patients who have already undergone cholecystectomy surgery may subsequently suffer from postcholecystectomy syndrome and need additional treatment. Some of the most common drugs and treatments are:
Syndrome Medication »
Gallstone Dissolution Agents »
Contact dissolution therapy »
Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) »
There are three different types of stones that can develop inside the gallbladder:
Bilirubin stones »
Cholesterol stones »
Mixed stones »
Symptoms of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Stones
The presence of stones inside the gallbladder is generally asymptomatic, while the presence of stones inside the bile ducts can cause blockages and trigger the following symptoms:
Diagnosis of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Stones
Some of the most commonly used tests to detect the presence of gallstones or bile duct stones are:
- Ultrasounds: Ultrasounds detect the presence of stones in the gallbladder or in the bile ducts and is one of the most popular diagnosic procedures. It uses sound waves to create accurate representations of the internal organs, including the gallbladder. If any stones are present inside the gallbladder, the sound waves will indicate their location. The main advantages of using ultrasound are: its noninvasiveness, it is a painless procedure with no side effects, and it does not involve any radiation.
- Barium exam: This procedure involves the ingestion of barium, which allows for the internal organs to become visible when scanned by the X-ray machine.
- MRI: The magnetic resonance scan can also be used when trying to confirm the presence of gallstones.
- CT scan: This type of imaging test is an emergency technique and is normally used in order to find the source of intense abdominal pains.
- Blood tests: Blood tests are incredibly helpful when diagnosing gallstones because the results might confirm the presence of certain toxins in the blood or if there is a high level of liver enzymes or alkaline phosphatase.
- HIDA scan: This hepatobiliary imaging procedure is commonly used in order to diagnose liver and gallbladder conditions.
Risk Factors for Gallbladder and Bile Duct Stones
The most important risk factors for the development of gallstones and bile duct stones are:
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese affects all internal organs and it can also influence the development of gallstones or bile duct stones.
- Unhealthy diet: Eating foods high in fat or high in cholesterol can lead to the formation of stones in your gallbladder.
- Rapid weight loss: Losing a significant amount of weight over a short period of time can have a negative effect on the gallbladder.
- Diabetes: Patients who suffer from this disease have been found more susceptible to the formation of gallstones.
- Sex: Gallstones are more common in female patients than in male patients.
- Race: Studies have shown that people of Native-American and Mexican-American descent are more susceptible to gallstones.
- Pregnancy: Being pregnant can trigger the formation of gallstones.
- Family history: People whose family members have been diagnosed with gallstones are more likely to develop this condition as well.
- Age: People over 60 are more likely to suffer from gallstones and bile duct stones.
- Liver diseases: Certain liver diseases, such as cirrhosis can increase a patient’s chances to develop gallstones.
- Medications: Some medications have been found to increase the risks for developing gallstones. These medications include cholesterol medications and medications that contain estrogen.
Causes of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Stones
The main cause for gallbladder and bile duct stone formation is represented by the crystallization of certain substances found in the gallbladder. While 80 percent of all gallbladder stones are the result of cholesterol crystallization, the other 20 percent results from bilirubin and calcium. However, there are other causes that can lead to the formation of gallstones such as:
- Concentrated bile: If the gallbladder fails to empty itself regularly the substance it contains can become too concentrated it can cause the formation of stones.
- Bilirubin excess: This substance is produced by the liver as a result of recycling old blood cells. If the liver is affected by a disease, such as cirrhosis, it might produce too much bilirubin, which would then end up in the gallbladder and form pigmented stones, or bilirubin stones.
- High cholesterol: When the bile secreted by the liver contains an excessive amount of cholesterol yellowish stones can develop inside the gallbladder.
Gallbladder and bile duct stones cannot be cured with alternative medicine or treatment, but there are certain alternative treatments that can help prevent their formation. Having high levels of cholesterol in the liver is one of the main causes for gallstones formation. Therefore, herbs and plants that help reduce cholesterol can be beneficial when trying to prevent them. However, gallstones can become a serious issue and it is strongly recommended that if you suspect you might have this condition that you speak with your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.
Some of the most popular alternative treatments for gallstones and bile duct stones are:
- Turmeric: This plant belongs to the ginger family and is a very popular treatment in traditional Indian medicine, where it is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, and also to strengthen the immune system.
- Silybum marianum: This plant, also known as milk thistle, is thought to be extremely efficient when treating liver disease.
- Dandelion root: This plant has been used as a treatment for thousands of years and is still considered a natural remedy for a large number of conditions, including liver problems, high cholesterol, and gallbladder problems.
- Activated carbon: Also known as activated charcoal, this substance can be used to treat different intoxications, indigestions, and even diarrhea.
- Lipase: This is an enzyme that is produced by our bodies naturally and has a crucial role in our digestive process, as it helps our body process fat intakes and can help cure certain diseases, such as celiac disease, the postcholecystectomy syndrome, and high cholesterol. In order to raise the levels of lipase in your body, you can consume certain foods that are high in lipases such as avocado, coconut, beans, chickpeas, eggplant, lentils, nuts, and oats.
- Bile salts: These supplements contain ox bile and other substances and can alleviate the symptoms of the postcholecystectomy syndrome.
Although gallstones and bile duct stones cannot always be avoided, especially if they are hereditary, there are certain things that can be done in order to prevent them, such as:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: By avoiding obesity and extra weight it is possible to also avoid other health problems such as high cholesterol, swollen gallbladder, or too much visceral fat accumulated on our internal organs.
- Avoiding rapid weight loss: Losing weight can sometimes be unhealthy, especially if it happens too rapidly and is followed by extreme diets which can trigger an imbalance in the levels of electrolytes in the body, increasing the chances of developing gallstones.
- Having a healthy diet: Eating foods that have a high level of fats increases our cholesterol levels, thus leading to the formation of gallstones. As a result, one of the most crucial ways to prevent gallstones from developing is by eating healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, beans, legumes, beets, greens, and others.
- Regular exercise: Exercising regularly improves our overall health and well-being, helping us avoid weight problems.
- Avoiding birth-control pills: Birth control pills can increase the chances of developing gallstones because they contain estrogen. If you think you might be susceptible to developing stones, you should consider avoiding this type of birth control.
Are you suffering from gallstones or bile duct stones? For any questions, information or guidance related to gallbladder and bile duct stones treatment, get in touch with our specialty-trained, skilled gastroenterologists at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital.