A diet high in fat combined with cholesterol-lowering drugs can cause gallstones to occur. Race, gender, age and family history can also be contributing factors to the development of gallstones. When gallstones cause symptoms, the outcome is usually surgical removal of the gallbladder. But there are some instances when gallstones can completely pass through the body without incident and are excreted.
What is a Gallstone?
The gallbladder is located on the right side of your abdomen and is shaped like a pear. It is within the gallbladder that gallstones are formed. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) describes gallstones as small, stone-like substances that were once liquid bile. Gallstones are formed when high amounts of cholesterol enter the bile and cause it to harden.
The Disappearing Act
It is possible for gallstones to pull a disappearing act, causing the patient to believe that the disappearing gallstone has indeed passed. However, MedicineNet.com reveals that it is possible for gallstones to dissolve inside the gallbladder. Although this is a rare occurrence, it can explain the absence of gallstones that have been positively identified on a diagnostic imaging.
The Common Bile Duct
Gallstones that do not dissolve inside the gallbladder can sometimes enter the small intestine via the common bile duct. The common bile duct is responsible for transporting bile from the gallbladder and the liver into the duodenum of the small intestine. Merck explains that when gallstones enter the common bile duct, the condition is referred to as choledocholithiasis. Sometimes these stones are large and cause painful blockages of the common bile duct, making it difficult for the liver and gallbladder to function. Smaller gallstones that do not cause an obstruction make their way into the colon.
Gallstones that are small enough to make their way through the common bile duct and the small intestine rarely cause obstructions in the colon. The condition is known as Colonic gallstone ileus (GSI) and is relatively uncommon. According to the Department of Gastroenterology and Surgery at Hellenic Air Force and Veterans General Hospital in Athens, Greece, gallstone obstructions are often resolved through surgery. Gallstones that do not cause a colon obstruction are finally expelled through the rectum.
The passing of a gallstone rarely occurs without uncomfortable and often painful symptoms. Pain may be intense in the beginning and dissipate after the stone if passed. Many people never even know that their pain was caused by the passing of a stone unless a specimen is taken to a physician for analysis. It is important to note that acute abdominal pain that is persistent and fails to dissipate can be a sign of a serious medical condition and should be diagnosed by a medical professional.