Gallstones vs. Kidney Stones: Everything You Need to Know

May 24, 2023

The two most prevalent kinds of stones that can develop within the body are gallstones and kidney stones. While kidney stones are crystals created by chemicals in the urine, gallstones are deposits of digestive fluid. Stones of either type can pass.

Both disorders can be uncomfortable and painful, there are significant distinctions between them in terms of symptoms, underlying causes, and available therapies. In this article, we'll examine them both in more detail, discussing their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What are Gallstones?

The gallbladder, a tiny pear-shaped organ situated on the right side of the belly beneath the liver, is where gallstones, which are hard deposits, develop. Bile, a digestive secretion of the liver which helps in the breakdown of fats in the small intestine, is kept in the gallbladder. While people tend to develop one gallstone at a time, there can be cases of multiple at once.

Gallstones can range in size from small sand grains to enormous stones the size of golf balls. They are generally made up of cholesterol and other elements found in bile, such as the waste material bilirubin, which is produced when red blood cells are broken down.

What are the Symptoms of Gallstones?

Most people with gallstones do not experience any symptoms, and the stones are often found incidentally during imaging tests for other conditions. However, when gallstones do cause symptoms, they can be severe.

It is advised to reach out to a primary care physician of your choosing should you spot any such symptoms.

  • Pain in the abdomen that can radiate to the back or shoulder blade
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Fever and chills

Causes of Gallstones

It's not always clear why gallstones occur. However, the most common cause that risks developing it are:

  • Bile concentration can result from abnormal gallbladder emptying, which occurs when the gallbladder doesn't empty frequently enough or entirely. A gallbladder crystal could develop from this.
  • If your liver excretes more cholesterol than your bile can dissolve, the excess bile can form crystals. Over time, those crystals can form gallstones.
  • An excessive amount of bilirubin is produced when your body breaks down red blood cells. When your liver produces too much bilirubin it could lead to a Gallstone formation.

How are Gallstones Diagnosed?

Your primary care physician may request one or more of the following tests if gallstones are suspected:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: This technique produces images of the gallbladder and adjacent organs using high-frequency sound waves.
  • CT scan: This imaging test creates finely detailed images of the abdomen and internal organs using X-rays and computer technologies.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): In this procedure, the pancreas and bile ducts are inspected using an endoscope, a flexible tube with a camera at one end.
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP): This imaging test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas.

Treatment of Gallstones

Most gallstone patients don't need to be treated unless they have any severe symptoms. Cholecystectomy surgery, often known as gallbladder removal surgery, can be recommended in certain situations.

It is possible to do this routine and secure procedure using minimally invasive methods like laparoscopic surgery. After the gallbladder is removed, bile bypasses the gallbladder and travels straight from the liver to the small intestine. Usually, there are no negative effects on digestion.

What are kidney stones?

The kidneys, which are two bean-shaped organs that filter waste from the blood and create urine, can develop hard, pebble-like deposits called kidney stones. A kidney stone is usually formed from chemicals in the urine.

The chemicals in the urine can clump and crystallize when there is insufficient liquid or when there is an excessive amount of waste. These crystals can attract other chemicals and elements to create hard kidney stones if the kidney is unable to clear them out.

Symptoms of kidney stones

While certain kidney stones can go undiscovered, the back and side near the kidney is where the pain is felt as a sharp, cramping sensation.

Other symptoms include

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blood in the urine
  • Irritation and strain on the ureter

Causes of Kidney Stones

  • Dehydration: Not getting enough water can cause the urine to have more minerals and salts, which raises the possibility of stones forming.
  • Diet: Kidney stones tend to develop in those who consume a lot of salt, sugar, and animal protein.
  • Obesity: Kidney stones are more likely to develop in people who are overweight or obese.
  • Family History: Kidney stones frequently run in families.
  • Medical problems: People who have certain medical diseases, such as gout and inflammatory bowel disease have a higher chance of developing it.
  • Medication: A number of drugs, including calcium-based antacids and diuretics, can raise the risk of kidney stone development.

Types of Kidney Stones

  • Calcium: Calcium: Calcium stones are the most common type of kidney stone. They’re generally the result of factors such as diet, high amounts of vitamin D, metabolic disorders, or gastric bypass surgery.
  • Struvite: Urinary tract infections can cause struvite stones to develop.
  • Uric acid: Uric acid stones commonly develop as a result of persistent fluid loss or malabsorption. They can also develop as a result of diabetes, some metabolic diseases, and a high-protein diet.
  • Cystine: Cystine stones form in people who have an inherited condition called cystinuria.

Treatment of Kidney Stones

The course of treatment for kidney stones depends on how big the stone is. You may be advised to drink a lot of water if you have tiny kidney stones as they may be able to spontaneously pass the stone.

In some circumstances, prescription medicine might help in lowering the acid content of your urine to facilitate passage. Sometimes surgery is necessary for larger stones that are causing serious symptoms or that could be spreading infection.

There are also surgical options that include:

  • Shock-wave lithotripsy: Shock-wave lithotripsy disintegrates the stones using sound waves. Then, they can be cleared by urination.
  • Ureteroscopy: Ureteroscopy removes kidney stones by inserting a narrow instrument called an endoscope through the urethra.
  • Nephrolithotomy: This surgery creates a passageway from the kidney to the skin so that stones can be removed.

Gallstones and kidney stones are two similar-sounding conditions that actually have different causes, symptoms, and treatments. The best course of action is to regularly visit your primary healthcare providers as they can help diagnose and form the best treatment plan for you.