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Holiday Feasts May Bring on Gallstones

Take care not to overindulge in festive goodies

SATURDAY, Dec. 20, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- If you overindulge in rich, fatty foods this holiday season and end up with indigestion, it may be a sign that you have gallstones.

It's estimated that 16 million to 22 million Americans have gallstones, but most people don't know they have them and have no symptoms, says the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Gallstones are clusters of solid material made mostly of cholesterol that form in the gallbladder. They can form as one large stone or many small stones. Some are as large as a golf ball and others are as small as a grain of sand.

Painless gallstones are called silent gallstones, while gallstones that do cause symptoms are called symptomatic gallstones. The symptomatic gallstones account for about 800,000 hospitalizations and 500,000 operations each year in the United States.

Gallstones develop in your gallbladder. It's a small pear-shaped organ -- about three inches long and an inch wide at its thickest point -- situated beneath your liver on the right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder stores and releases bile into the intestine to help with digestion.

Gallstones are formed in three different ways: when bile contains more cholesterol than it can dissolve; when proteins or other substances in the bile cause cholesterol to form hard crystals; and when the gallbladder doesn't contract and empty its bile regularly.

Indigestion after eating foods high in fat is one symptom of gallstones. Other symptoms include: sudden severe pain in the upper abdomen that lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours; nausea or vomiting; and pain under the right shoulder or in the right shoulder blade.

Symptomatic gallstones can be treated by surgery or by drugs that dissolve the gallstones.

More information

Here are some questions to discuss with your doctor regarding gallstone symptoms.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
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