How to Treat Gallstones Symptoms: Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Abdominal Pain

You can experience gallstones symptoms for several reasons. The use of different treatment modalities can provide pain relief.

Woman holding her abdomen area with both hands

Gallstones are pebble-like objects that can develop in the gallbladder or bile ducts. These objects can range from the size of sand grains to that of a golf ball. Interestingly, the smaller-sized objects often cause the most troublesome gallstones symptoms.

It’s worth noting that these objects typically consist of two types of hardened materials — cholesterol and pigment stones. Cholesterol can be found throughout the body and comprises fatty substances in the blood.

Pigment stones usually come from bilirubin — a yellowish substance that develops when red blood cells disintegrate in the liver. Here are the causes and symptoms of gallstones and ways to deal with the disorder effectively.

A woman felt like throwing up, with her hand on her chest and a blueberry muffin sitting on a plate.
Nausea can also indicate the occurrence of gallstones.

Understanding the Symptoms and Causes of Gallstones

The most notable symptoms of gallstones relate to pain. These include episodes of pain in the chest, right shoulder, or upper-middle or upper-right abdomen. You may also experience jaundice, nausea and vomiting.

The Western medicine take on gallstone causes

There are several reasons why gallstones can develop. Generally, they form when there’s a critical cholesterol or bilirubin concentration in the bile. In addition, the problem may happen when your gallbladder doesn’t completely empty itself of bile. Likewise, you will potentially develop gallstones if you have liver disease or blood disorders, diabetes, taking medications that contain estrogen (oral contraceptives), are pregnant, or are going through rapid weight loss.

The Traditional Chinese Medicine take on gallstone causes

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the connection between the Liver and Gallbladder is central to gallstone formation. The Liver secretes bile juice and stores it in the Gallbladder, enabling optimal digestion of cholesterols and fats in the small intestines. Conversely, an abnormal Liver function will impair the secretion of bile juice. 

Anger and stress can stagnate Liver qi (vital energy) and trigger Liver dispersion failure. These emotions disrupt bile juice secretion and induce Stagnation in the Gallbladder and bile duct.

Separately, the excessive consumption of unhealthy foods – oily, fried, sugared, or high-calorie foods – will produce Heat and Dampness in the body. Too much Damp Heat in the body can also affect the gallbladder secretion process. It also stimulates an abnormal condensing and thickening of the bile juice. Consequently, this will lead to the formation of gallstones in the bladder.

The Artemisia capillaries (yin chen hao, 茵陳蒿) herb displaying on a table
Artemisia capillaries (yin chen hao, 茵陳蒿) is a herbal ingredient that can help treat gallstones.

Steps You Can Take to Do Away with Gallstones Symptoms

Clinical physicians often recommend surgical removal of the gallbladder (a cholecystectomy) as a means of treating gallstones. In 90% of cases involving surgery, a minimally-invasive version of the procedure — a laparoscopy — will be used as it’s less painful and promotes faster recovery.

Meanwhile, gallstones in the bile duct can be removed through a procedure known as Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). You may opt to ingest medications to dissolve these objects. However, it can take months or even years before they clear off. Alternatively, the use of herbs can help to expel them.

Consumption of herbal ingredients

Making the choice to use medications is suitable for people who have an existing medical condition or want to retain their gallbladder. You can also support the removal of gallstones by using ingredients like Artemisia capillaris (yin chen hao, 茵陈蒿), Curcumae radix (yu jin, 郁金), Lysimachiae herba (jin qian cao, 金钱草) and Rose banksiae (mu xiang, 木香).

Artemisia capillaris (yin chen hao, 茵陈蒿) is beneficial for relieving jaundice and clearing Damp Heat from the Liver and Gallbladder. Curcumae radix (yu jin, 郁金) also helps treat jaundice by regulating the Gallbladder and relieving Stagnation in the Liver. It’s also useful for resolving stasis and improving qi flow.

Lysimachiae herba (jin qian cao, 金钱草) is helpful in clearing Stasis, enhancing blood circulation, and easing the pain and swelling associated with gallstones. Rose banksiae (mu xiang, 木香), on the other hand, can aid food digestion and tonify the Spleen”, advises Real Health Medical physician Chu I Ta. It’s worth noting that these ingredients will only help with smaller-sized gallstones.

Undergo acupuncture treatment
Undergo acupuncture treatment

Undergo acupuncture treatment

Acupuncture can be used to lighten the burden on the gallbladder by normalising Liver qi and alleviating Damp Heat in the Gallbladder. Self-stimulation of several acupressure points can also achieve a similar effect.

Examples of these are dan shu (BL19, 胆俞), dan nang (EX-LE6, 胆囊), zhong du (GB32, 中渎) and ri yue (GB24, 日月).

Making lifestyle changes

Switching up your daily habits can make you less susceptible to gallstones. “Control your intake of high-cholesterol foods like animal organs and egg yolk to reduce cholesterol metabolism disorders. Avoid spicy and grilled or fried meat. Consume steamed, stewed, or cold foods with a dressing. Also, limit your consumption of foods that bloat, such as leeks, onions, radishes, and sweet potatoes”, adds physician Chu.

Instead, replace these with fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins A and K to ensure an adequate fibre intake. It reduces your chances of developing gallstones by preventing a re-absorption of bile acid.

Ultimately, minimising your risk is better than having to treat gallstones symptoms. Adhere to a routine that involves regular exercise, consistent mealtimes, and a healthy diet. If you are diagnosed with gallstones, know that various treatment options are available. You can also use herbal ingredients but check with a TCM practitioner to determine their safety.

References

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Gallstones. [online] Available at <https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gallstones> [Accessed 26 January 2022]
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Gallstones. [online] Available at <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7313-gallstones> [Accessed 26 January 2022]
  3. Gallstones. [online] Available at <https://medlineplus.gov/gallstones.html> [Accessed 26 January 2022]

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