The gall bladder is a four-inch organ under the liver that serves as a reservoir for bile. Bile is essential to the digestion of fats in the small intestine, so the gall bladder, which resembles a sack, holds onto bile then delivers it as needed. Gallstones tend to develop slowly over time, in a process called cholelithiasis. Small gallstones often come and go with no pain and no symptoms. But when gallstones become inflamed, pain can be intense and action needs to be taken.
Discuss the options for treatment with your doctor. If your gallstones are small and are not causing enough pain for you to change your daily routine, your doctor may discuss natural ways to try to clear the stones. These include watchful waiting: sometimes the stone passes on its own. Another way to try to flush out stones is by drinking lots of water, or intravenous hydration and oxygen therapy.
Avoid unverified claims about tonics and methods. The Mayo Clinic warns that one natural remedy, called a "gallbladder cleanse'' or "flush,'' which uses olive oil and juices taken over several hours to try to rid the body of gallstones, has no reliable evidence to back it up. Gastroenterologist Michael Picco of the Mayo Clinic writes, "proponents claim that gallbladder cleansing helps break up gallstones and stimulates the gallbladder to release them in stool. Although olive oil can act as a laxative, there's no evidence that it is an effective treatment.''
Bile salt tablets dissolve small cholesterol stones slowly. Bile salt tablets made of ursodiol, a bile acid that is produced naturally by the body, work by decreasing the production of cholesterol and by dissolving the cholesterol in bile so that it cannot form stones. Many doctors prefer ursodiol for patients seeking non-surgical remedies because it seems to have the fewest side effects. The benefits of ursodiol are not permanent, however. Gallstones tend to recur within five to 10 years, so many people take the drug indefinitely. It is often sold under the name Urso or Actigall.
Tips & Warnings
- Gallstones that block the cystic duct, which joins the gallbladder and the common bile duct, can be very serious and can quickly lead to infection. Infection is extremely dangerous and life-threatening if it spreads to other parts of the body, a condition called septicemia. If you suspect you have an infected gallstone, see your doctor immediately.
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