Gallstones may block the bile duct and cause severe pain.

What are Gallstones?

Gallstones are hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder over time. The gallbladder is a small organ beneath the liver that stores bile (a digestive fluid) and releases it into the small intestine. Gallstones can range in size from sand-like particles to 1-2cm. There are two main types of gallstones, these are:

  • Cholesterol gallstones: the most common type of gallstones, and are mainly composed of cholesterol. They form when there is an imbalance in the chemical composition of bile, causing cholesterol to crystallise and accumulate in the gallbladder.
  • Pigment gallstones: less common and are usually dark brown or black. They comprise bilirubin, a waste product produced by the breakdown of red blood cells. Pigment gallstones can form when there is an excess of bilirubin in the bile.

What are the common symptoms of Gallstones problems in Singapore?

Although small gallstones may be harmless and don’t often cause problems, they may cause some complications if left untreated. These include:

  • Abdominal bloatedness after meals
  • Upper abdominal pain after meals
  • Upper abdominal pain with associated upper back pain
  • Fever with abdominal pain
  • Dark coloured urine and pale clay-like stools

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms stated above, book an appointment with Alpine Surgical Practice today.

Although some people with gallstones are asymptomatic, they can cause pain in the upper right abdomen.

Are Gallstones painful?

Gallstones can be painful, especially when they trigger an obstruction or infection of the gallbladder, bile duct, or pancreas (pancreatitis). Gallstones can cause intense and severe pain that requires hospitalisation. They can also cause nausea, vomiting, jaundice, and infection if left untreated. However, not everyone who has gallstones experiences pain and may not have any symptoms.

Who is at risk of Gallstones in Singapore?

Gallstones can affect people of any age and background, although certain factors can increase the risk of developing gallstones. These risk factors include:

  • Gender: women are generally more prone to gallstones than men.
  • Age: individuals over the age of 40 are at a higher risk of developing gallstones, especially if they have other medical conditions such as diabetes.
  • Obesity: being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for gallstones; this is due to their links to increased cholesterol secretion by the liver. Singapore has seen an increase in obesity rates in recent years, which may contribute to a higher risk of gallstones.
  • Rapid weight loss: rapid weight loss methods may increase the risk of gallstones due to a bile composition imbalance.
  • Diet: a diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol can increase the risk of gallstones. 
  • Genetics: having a family history of gallstones indicates a genetic predisposition to gallstones.
  • Hormones: women who have had multiple pregnancies, taking hormone replacement therapy, or using birth control pills with high oestrogen levels may be at a higher risk of gallstones.
  • Medical conditions: having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, Crohn's disease, and blood disorders, increases the risk of gallstones.
gallstones diet
A diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol can improve and prevent gallstones.

How are Gallstones diagnosed in Singapore?

Gallstones are generally diagnosed through a combination of the following: 

  • Medical history: your surgical specialist will obtain your detailed medical history. They may ask about your symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and other related issues.
  • Physical examination: a physical examination may also be done to check for signs of gallbladder or abdominal tenderness.
  • Blood tests: blood tests may be ordered to check for signs of other conditions, such as inflammation or infection, that gallstones could be causing.
  • Imaging studies: imaging studies such as an ultrasound of the liver and gallbladder, computed tomography (CT) scans of the abdomen, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the bile ducts. 

What are the treatment options for Gallstones in Singapore?

In general, treatment options for gallstones in Singapore include:

  • Monitoring: as not everyone with gallstones experiences symptoms or complications, your surgical specialist may recommend monitoring the condition over time and treating it only if symptoms develop.
  • Lifestyle modifications: for those with mild or infrequent symptoms related to gallstones, lifestyle changes may be recommended, such as improving diet and reducing high-fat foods, as well as exercising more. 
  • Cholecystectomy: gallbladder removal surgery or cholecystectomy is commonly performed and is the mainstay treatment for symptomatic gallstones. It involves the surgical removal of the gallbladder using minimally invasive laparoscopic techniques.
  • Medications: medications may be prescribed to dissolve gallstones or manage symptoms such as Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA).
  • Endoscopy: an endoscopy, also known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), removes gallstones that have dropped into the bile duct.
gallstone removal
A cholecystectomy may be necessary for severe cases of gallstones.

Frequently asked questions

You can reduce your risk of gallstones by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, avoiding rapid weight loss, and staying physically active. However, as gallstones occur due to various factors, they can still develop in some individuals.
Gallstones can lead to complications like cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), pancreatitis, cholangitis (infection of the bile ducts), and gallbladder cancer.
Sometimes, small cholesterol gallstones may be dissolved over time with medications. However, this process can be slow and only effective for some types of stones.
Gallstones themselves are not typically life-threatening, but complications arising from them can be serious. Seeking medical attention for symptoms is essential to prevent complications.
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