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Sharp Health News

Gallstone pain levels: from 0 to ER

Sept. 9, 2015

Gallstone pain

Women between the ages of 20 and 60 are three times more likely to develop gallstones than men. The chances increase for women who have had multiple pregnancies, have a family history of gallstones, are of Hispanic or Native American descent, are obese or have experienced rapid weight loss.

Gallstone pain levels: from 0 to ER

Most people who have gallstones experience some pain, but others don't experience any symptoms at all.

Small gallstones leave the gallbladder and its draining ducts, and then pass out of the body through the intestines. After a high-fat meal, thin muscles in the wall of the gallbladder squeeze to help release bile into the intestines during the digestive process. If the gallbladder squeezes against a gallstone, or if a gallstone blocks the fluid from draining easily, the gallbladder can ache with a strong, steady pain.

These gallstone symptoms are not always felt where you might think:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Indigestion, bloating and heartburn
  • Pain in the right upper region of the abdomen
  • Sudden and rapid pain in the center of the abdomen
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the right shoulder

According to Dr. Eric Orr, a board-certified surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, many women live their lives without knowing they have gallstones.

When a gallbladder attack occurs, it can land you in the emergency room. Because there is no medication to treat gallstones, surgical removal of the gallbladder may be your only treatment option.

Laparoscopic surgery is the most common surgery used to remove a gallbladder. A surgeon removes the gallbladder and gallstones through several small incisions in the abdomen.

Single-Site™ robotic surgery: a new treatment solution

Unlike traditional laparoscopic surgeries that require three to five small incisions, a new technology is now available that allows for a single, one-inch incision through the belly button, called Single-Site™ robotic surgery.

"During Single-Site surgery, the surgeon sits at a console, viewing a 3-D, high-definition image of the patient's anatomy, and uses controls to move the robotic arms and camera to perform the surgery," explains Dr. Orr.

"Because the technology uses one small incision through the bellybutton, one of the major benefits of Single-Site gallbladder surgery is the cosmetic advantage of its virtually scarless results."

Other benefits of Single-Site robotic surgery include the following:

  • Minimal pain
  • Low blood loss
  • Can be performed in about one hour
  • Short hospital stay of less than 24 hours
  • Fast recovery — patients are usually back to their normal lives within seven days

You can live a healthy life without your gallbladder. The bile produced in your liver flows directly into the small intestine, without being stored first in the gallbladder.

Although gallstones cannot be prevented, Dr. Orr advises that there are ways to reduce the risk for both women and men: maintain a healthy weight; eat regular, balanced meals; and exercise daily.

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