What are gallstones and how common are they for women?

Are you aware of the tiny intruders that could be lurking within your gallbladder? They’re called gallstones, and they’re quite common, especially among women.

These small, hard deposits can range in severity from being silent occupants to creating severe health complications. 

While we’re about to delve deeper into what exactly gallstones are and how frequently they occur in women, it’s important for all women out there to note that the risk of developing these unwelcome guests increases considerably with age and certain hormonal changes.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are solid pieces that form within the gallbladder, a small organ under your liver. These stone-like structures originate from cholesterol and substances found in the bile duct.

You may experience severe symptoms if these stones clog your bile ducts. On the other hand, if they’re small and nonobstructive, you may remain symptom-free. Essentially, having gallstones is a bit like playing a game of roulette, as the effects can vary from person to person.

What are the causes of gallstones? 

Gallstones may form in the bile if there is too much cholesterol, bilirubin, or not enough bile salts. Researchers aren’t fully aware of why these changes occur, but you’re more likely to get gallstones if you’re obese, have a poor diet, or your gallbladder doesn’t empty out completely.

Certain medications may cause gallstones. For example, Ozempic (sold under Wegovy and Rybelsus) has been linked to gallbladder issues. If you’ve used this medication prior to April 2022 and have gallstones, you may be able to file an ozempic gallstone lawsuit in your state.

However, the most likely cause of gallstones is being a woman. While men do get gallstones, women are much more susceptible to them for a number of reasons, including their hormones. 

How common are gallstones for women?

According to Harvard Research, 25 million people in the United States have gallstones, and 65% to 75% of that number include women. It’s possible that almost 25% of women over the age of 60 have had or currently have gallstones, making gallstones prevalent and very common. 

Estrogen is a major reason for this, as it increases cholesterol in the bile and produces more progesterone, which slows the emptying of the gallbladder. Since estrogen is higher in females than males, women are diagnosed with gallstones at nearly three times the rate than men. 

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

Common symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Pain in the abdomen that lasts several hours
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fevers and chills
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
  • Tea-colored urine or light-colored stools

Silent gallstones refer to gallstones that don’t manifest any signs or symptoms. Typically, a large proportion of people carrying gallstones fall under this category. These discrete little trouble-makers reside in the gallbladder without causing any noticeable disturbance. 

You may live with silent gallstones for years and not even know they exist because they keep to themselves and don’t interfere with the functioning of your gallbladder or liver. However, in spite of their discrete nature, it’s essential to remember that silent gallstones can still pose health risks if they begin to obstruct the bile ducts. This can sometimes cause unbearable symptoms.

How are gallstones diagnosed and treated?

Gallstones are typically diagnosed with lab tests and imaging tests (ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, cholescintigraphy, or endoscopy). When you’re diagnosed, health professionals will start treatment right away. Treatment includes nonsurgical and surgical (typically as a last resort).

However, the best treatment for gallstones is prevention. Including more foods that are high in fiber, healthy fats, less sugar, and fewer refined carbs is a good start. Losing weight is also vital if you’re overweight or obese. This can be done through diet or routine physical activity.

Listen to your body

Knowing about gallstones and their prevalence in women is the first step toward proactive health management. Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, closely monitor your body and listen to its signals. Don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare provider if you suspect gallstones!