Abdominal pain, don't be too quick to dismiss it as just gastric

marcom@healthxchange.com.sg (healthxchange.sg)
·2-min read

Gallstones can mimic the aching discomfort that many mistakenly assume to be gastric pain

That sporadic pain in the centre of your upper central abdomen, which seems to get worse at times, could be a symptom of gallbladder disease.

"Gallstones are the most common result of gallbladder disease," explains Dr Teo Jin Ya​​o​, Consultant from the Department of Hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) and Transplant Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

He adds, “When formed, gallstones can be of varying number and size. Some are as small as a grain of sand, while others can be as big as golf balls.”

Read more: Gallbladder disease - What are the risk factors and tips to prevent

How gallstones occur

The gallbladder is a small sac on the underside of the liver that is used to store bile, which is produced by the liver to aid in fat digestion.​​​

Bile consists of water, cholesterol, bile salts, fats, proteins and bilirubin (a yellowish-brown pigment). If the liquid bile contains too much cholesterol or bilirubin, it can harden into gallstones.

Read more: Preventing urinary stones - How many litres of water should you drink daily?

Types of gallstones

There are three main types of gallstones, and their form​ation is affected by factors such as age, diet and ethnicity.

1. Cholesterol stones

Made of hardened cholesterol, these are yellowish in colour. In Western countries, most gallstones are cholesterol stones.

2. Pigment stones

Made of bilirubin, these are small, dark-coloured stones most commonly seen in the developing world.

​3. Mixed stones

These are a combination of cholesterol and pigment stones. In Singapore, this is the most commonly seen variety.

“It is important to make the distinction between gastric pain (or peptic ulcer disease) and gallbladder disease as the treatment is very different,” advises Dr Teo.

If your symptoms appeared recently, you should consult a doctor. In cases of gastric pain where symptoms are long-standing, sometimes going back decades, such symptoms are less likely to indicate a serious health problem.

Read more: Gastric pain - Signs you should see a doctor

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