Gallstones in Teenagers

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, gallstones are small substances that can move out of your gallbladder and create a blockage that results in intense abdominal pain. If the stone becomes stuck in your bile duct, you can get inflammation and infection of the gallbladder or bile duct. This can cause severe abdominal pain and can in some cases be life threatening. While gallstones are more common in older adults, children and teenagers can also develop gallstones and gallbladder disease.

Gallstones look like small, stone-like substances. (Image: Piotr Marcinski/iStock/Getty Images)

Background

Gallstones are small, stone-like substances that develop in your gallbladder and are either composed of cholesterol or pigment. Normally, your gallbladder secretes bile to help your body digest fat. Bile contains cholesterol, bilirubin, water, fat and salts and is normally made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder until it is needed. Cholesterol stones form when bile, which helps your body digest fat, contains too much cholesterol. Cholesterol stones are yellow-green in color while pigment stones are darker and composed of bilirubin. Teenagers can develop both cholesterol and pigment stones.

Risk in Teenagers

While gallstones typically occur in adults older than 60, certain factors increase your risk of gallstones at an earlier age. If you have diabetes, use cholesterol-lowering drugs or are obese, your risk of developing gallstones is higher. As your body mass index, or BMI, is measured according to age when you are a teenager, you should discuss this with your doctor to figure out if you are obese or overweight. Additionally, Native Americans, Mexican Americans and Northern Europeans are at increased risk of developing gallstones. If you have had gallstones in the past or have a malformation of your gallbladder or gallbladder ducts, you are also at increased risk for developing gallstones.

Treatment

If you do not have symptoms related to your gallstones, no treatment is required. For episodes of abdominal pain related to gallstones, the recommendation will likely be for removal of your gallbladder. If your surgery is complicated in any way, a specialist in gallbladder issues known as a gastroenterologist may also be involved in your care. If you have cholesterol stones and are a poor candidate for surgery, therapy to help dissolve the gallstones may be recommended. Fortunately, the gallbladder is not an essential organ and most people do not notice significant changes after its removal.

Considerations

The best way to prevent gallstones from forming as a teenager is to avoid becoming overweight or obese by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet. Your diet should include many fruits and vegetables and have a low fat content. If you have other medical conditions that increase your risk of gallstones, your physician may be able to help you keep these under control to minimize your risk. If you notice symptoms that may be related to gallstones, discuss these with your physician.

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