Gallstones affect about one in five Americans. The pain and discomfort from gallstone disease (GD) can be excruciating, which is part of why treatment is essential.
When gallstones become painful, many people will start looking for remedies that will bring relief. Popular treatment options include the following…
1. Anti-inflammatory Drugs and Narcotic Pain Relievers
In most cases, the first level of care is pain relief. This method may be combined with another treatment, or it may be the only treatment for milder cases.
Why anti-inflammatory drugs and narcotic pain relievers help fight gallstones
Anti-inflammatory drugs block certain enzymes that produce prostaglandin, a chemical in the body that helps facilitate inflammation, fever, and pain.
Narcotic pain relievers bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, affecting the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. They block pain pathways. So, while the pain is still there, it doesn’t register with the brain, so the person in turn does not feel the pain.
2. Ursodeoxycholic Acid (Ursodiol)
Ursodeoxycholic acid, or ursodiol (Actigall, Urso Forte, Urso 250), is a prescription medication that is used in the treatment of gallstones. It often used to treat smaller cholesterol gallstones and primary biliary cirrhosis, a disease of the liver. It can also be used to prevent the formation of gallstones in obese patients who are rapidly losing weight.
Why ursodeoxycholic acid helps fight gallstones
This acid dissolves gallstones while limiting the production of cholesterol. It does so by blocking the liver enzyme that produces it. This process also reduces the amount of cholesterol in the bile.
3. Chenodeoxycholic Acid
Chenodeoxycholic acid is a medication some doctors use to dissolve gallstones; it is made from bile. It works best for people who cannot have gallbladder surgery.
Who should avoid this treatment?
This medication should not be used by people who:
- Are pregnant
- Have pancreatitis related to gallstones
- Have a blockage in the digestive tract
- Have a bile obstruction
- Have cirrhosis or some other liver disease
Common side effects include mild stomach cramps or abnormal blood tests.
Why chenodeoxycholic acid helps fight gallstones
Chenodeoxycholic acid helps to dissolve gallstones. Specifically, it decreases cholesterol saturation in the bile.
4. Shockwave Therapy (ESWL)
Shockwave therapy, known as extracorporeal shockwave therapy lithotripsy (ESWL), is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment for gallstones.
Why shockwave therapy helps fight gallstones
ESWL can be done without anesthesia on an outpatient basis. It disintegrates and fractures the gallstones using sound waves. These waves are strong enough to affect the stones but not so strong they harm the patient.
The best candidates for this procedure have a normal functioning gallbladder and small stones. It is also a good option for patients who are unable to undergo gallbladder surgery. It may take several months for the stone or stones to dissolve completely, depending on the size of the stones.
5. ERCP Surgery
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, ERCP for short, is a procedure that removes gallstones from the bile duct but leaves the gallbladder in place. That means this procedure does not remove gallstones that are still in the gallbladder.
How ERCP works
- ERCP uses a tiny camera on a long, thin, flexible tube, called an endoscope, to pass through the patient’s mouth to the point where the bile duct empties into the small intestine.
- The bile duct opening is then widened with a heated wire or small cut.
- This cut allows the surgeon access to get the stones and remove them or allow them to bass into the intestine so they can be expelled.
- In some cases, it may be necessary for the surgeon to place a stent in the bile duct, making it easier for stones and bile to pass.
6. Gallbladder Surgery
Gallbladder surgery, called a cholecystectomy, is the most invasive of all gallbladder treatments. During surgery, the surgeon makes several incisions in the abdomen and removes the gallbladder.
Why gallbladder surgery helps fight gallstones
A cholecystectomy removes the entire gallbladder, which means that the body is no longer able to store bile between meals. Once the surgery is complete, the bile flows from the production point, the liver, directly to the small intestine through the common bile duct.
7. Milk Thistle
Silybum marianum, or milk thistle, is a powerful flavonolignan that has been used for centuries to treat gallbladder and liver disorders. The flavonolignans known as silymarin have long been studied for their effectiveness in treating certain diseases.
Milk thistle is available as a pill, over the counter. However, anyone thinking about using milk thistle for gallstones should first talk to their doctor, particularly if they are diabetic.
Why milk thistle helps fight gallstones
There is little scientific evidence to support the claim that milk thistle is a good treatment for gallbladder disease. That is why the medicinal use of the supplements does not have FDA approval. Advocates say, however, it works by decreasing cholesterol in the body, so that cholesterol gallstones are not able to form.
8. Herba Lysimachiae
Jin Qian Cao (Herba Lysimachiae) is a class of herb that is incredibly popular in Chinese medicine for a number of conditions. Two of the most popular herbs in this class that are used for treating gallstones are Lysimachia christinae and Desmodium styracifolium. Sometimes they are combined with other herbs like dandelion root for maximum effect. The supplement does not have FDA approval yet, though.
Why Herba Lysimachiae helps fight gallstones
Advocates say Herba Lysimachiae actually dissolves the gallstones, specifically cholesterol gallstones. There have been clinical trials that have shown the herb was effective in treating mice with gallstones. That being said, there is still much research to be completed before human use is recommended.
9. Dandelion Root
Dandelions are considered weeds in many communities. Just because they’re weeds doesn’t mean they’re useless, though. In fact, they are incredibly useful plants, particularly from a medical standpoint. The leaves are edible, and the root can be used to make a great-liver cleansing, gallstone-dissolving tea. Its herbs can be steamed and eaten or taken as a tincture or tea. The roots are slightly bitter, with a taste that is reminiscent of black licorice.
Why dandelion root helps fight gallstones
Dandelion contains the substance taraxacin, which may stimulate bile production. When the body produces more bile, the concentration decreases as well. This increase in volume has a good chance of flushing out a stone. It may also lower cholesterol, thus potentially preventing gallstones.
Dandelion root is not only considered to be a blood and liver purifier, but also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. That means it may help relieve the pain associated with these stones.
Turmeric has long been a staple of Ayurveda as well as Chinese medicine. It has been used for centuries to lose weight, reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and more. In short, it is a multipurpose supplement with therapeutic, anti-inflammatory properties that help a number of medical conditions, including gallstones.
Why turmeric helps fight gallstones
There are two ways that turmeric helps fight gallstones. First, it reduces inflammation by blocking certain inflammatory enzymes and cytokines. This in turn provides pain relief. Second, it stimulates better bile flow, which can help reduce the risk of developing gallstones. It may even soften the gallstones so that they are easier to pass.
11. Dietary Changes
Dietary changes are usually one of the first treatments for people suffering from gallbladder disease. There are certain foods that tend to increase gallbladder pain, such as eggs, pork, onions, milk, coffee, oranges, and apples, to name a few. The changes usually focus on decreasing fat, cholesterol, and sugar while increasing certain whole grains, fresh vegetables, and lean meats.
Why dietary changes help fight gallstones
Dietary changes to treat or prevent gallstones work twofold.
- Reduce weight and decrease obesity
- Eliminate foods that may be causing or exacerbating gallbladder disease, such as increased cholesterol
By making adjustments to diet, patients may find that their pain and discomfort have decreased or been eliminated completely.
12. Other Lifestyle Changes
Aside from dietary changes, there are other lifestyle changes that can improve gallbladder disease. These changes include:
- Stop smoking
- Drink only in moderation
- Exercise regularly
- Get quality sleep each night
Why lifestyle changes help fight gallstones
These changes help get the body into better shape, stabilize insulin levels, normalize blood sugar, and boost immunity. There isn’t one that is more important than another; they are all vital to good health.
Gallstones and many of the conditions that contribute to gallstones are typically lifestyle-related. That means making the necessary adjustments to improve lifestyle behaviors can reduce symptoms, prevent occurrences, and even reverse the condition.
13. Prevention: The Best Cure of Them All
Prevention is a powerful weapon when it comes to fighting gallstones and other chronic conditions. While certain risk factors—like ethnicity, age, and gender—can’t be changed, there are plenty of others that can. And those positive changes can reduce the risk in areas that can’t be changed.
These are the key factors in gallstone prevention:
- A healthy, balanced diet that includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and lean meats
- Limit or omit processed foods
- Limit or omit processed sugar in food and as a sweetener
- Reduce intake of fatty foods
- Exercise regularly
- If overweight or obese, lose weight slowly
- Stop smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation
How prevention can help fight gallstones
Removing the elements that create or exacerbate the situation is an excellent way to prevent disease. That is exactly what happens when preventative measures are taken to fight gallstones. Most of these work in more than one area. For instance, changing diet patterns will automatically encourage weight loss.
Natural treatments, medication, surgery, and non-invasive treatments all work for different individuals in different ways. A patient may have to try several remedies before finding the one that works. It is important to remember though that while many of the treatments may reduce gallbladder symptoms and even infection, the underlying cause may have to be addressed separately.
Knowledge is key to treatment
Fortunately, gallbladder disease and gallstones are usually very treatable conditions. The more people know about their health conditions, the better equipped they are to make informed decisions regarding their treatments.