Gallstones are small masses, often resembling pebbles, that develop in the gallbladder, which is a small organ located just below the liver on the right side of the abdomen that aids in the digestive process. Gallstones frequently cause intense abdominal pain, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. These stones can sometimes cause a blockage inside the gallbladder, creating an emergency situation, so prompt medical care is essential. Once a blockage has been ruled out, the gallstone pain can be treated. Some treatment options include the use of over-the-counter or prescription medications, dietary changes, or surgical removal of the gallbladder.
Pain medication is often prescribed for patients experiencing gallstone pain. Over-the-counter pain medications may provide sufficient relief in mild cases, but stronger medications are generally needed. Certain medications made from bile acid may occasionally be prescribed in an effort to dissolve the stones, but it can take months or even years for the stones to dissolve using this method.
Opting for dietary changes is common among patients who prefer a more natural way to reduce gallstone pain or who wish to avoid surgery. Artichoke leaves contain a chemical which is known to increase bile production and is among the most popular choices for natural gallstone pain relief. Turmeric is a spice known for its ability to stimulate bile production, and many patients work at finding creative ways to add this to the diet. Some patients also have reported success with drinking large amounts of olive oil, though there are potential unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea reported with this method of gallstone pain treatment.
A large percentage of patients experiencing gallstone pain will end up having the gallbladder removed, especially if the painful attacks occur regularly. There is no medical evidence suggesting that a person's overall health is diminished by not having a gallbladder. In most cases, gallbladder removal is an outpatient procedure in which two or three small holes are made in the abdomen. Small instruments, including a camera, are inserted into these holes, reducing the need for open surgery. Recovery time is much shorter with this type of surgery than with the more traditional types of open surgery.
In the rare instances when open surgery is necessary to remove the gallbladder, the patient is usually in the hospital for a couple of days. Recovery time often lasts a few weeks instead of a few days due to the larger incision and risks of infection. Complications following either type of surgery are rare, but any concerns should be reported to a physician right away.