Gallstones in Children

If you as an adult have faced the excruciating pain of gallstones in your life, you can very well imagine the pain a child may undergo if he or she is diagnosed for gallstones. These gallstones can result in many other unbearable pains for the child. If your child is suffering from gallstones or if you want to know more about how to prevent, diagnose and treat gallstones problem in children go ahead and read this useful and informative post.

What Are Gallstones?

Gallstones are the small, stone-like matter that forms when the liquid in the gallbladder hardens. Gallstones are usually mobile and appear single or multiple. If there are stones found in the gallbladder it is referred to as ‘cholelithiasis’.

How Does Gallstones Form?

The gallbladder contains a liquid which when hardened turns into small stones inside the bladder. Liver in the human body naturally produces bile which is important for the body as it is used to digest the food we intake. This bile is stored inside the gallbladder in between our meals. Bile is made up of several ingredients such as water, cholesterol, salts, fats, and proteins. There is also a yellowish pigment called bilirubin present in it. If not taken proper care, the bile which is stored in the intestine can form crystals and as these crystals grow they turn out to become hard gallstones which are difficult even for the bile to dissolve. Hence it remains in the gallbladder and causes extreme pain to the individual.

Gallstones In Children

Gallstones are formed because there is an imbalance in the bile pigment constituency in our body. If your child is suffering from conditions such as diabetes, hemolytic anemia, obesity, less shrinkage of the gallbladder and some other genetic factors, then he or she is at a high chance of developing gallstones in an early age itself.

Types Of Gallstones

Gallstones can be classified into two:

1. Cholesterol Stones

Cholesterol gallstones are the most commonly found type of gallstones in children. It is often yellow in color. These stones are made up of cholesterol fat which cannot be dissolved by the body. Hence these cholesterol fats harden up and form stones. Cholesterol gallstone is especially common among older people, pregnant women, and individuals who are obese.

2. Bilirubin Stones

Bilirubin or pigment stones are nothing but the digestive bilirubin juice in the stomach of children which when hardened becomes stones. They are mostly dark brown to black in color and consists of supersaturated calcium bilirubinate which is the calcium salt of unconjugated bilirubin. This type of gallstones is predominantly found in children who are already suffering from acute liver problems and leukemia.

Symptoms Of Gallstones In Children

Every now and then gallstones cause no symptoms at all. However, more often the child may experience a sudden onset of the symptoms of gallstone which includes:

  • A sudden excruciating pain in the upper abdomen area
  • Severe pain spreading to the back in between his or her shoulder blade
  • Continuous nausea and vomiting constantly
  • Sharp cramping just after having a meal
  • Pain worsens after a fatty or greasy meal
  • Develops sudden fever in case of infection

Causes Of Gallstones In Children

Gallstones are not as common in children as they are in adults. However, recently more children are diagnosed with gallbladder stone. There are several factors that can cause gallstone formation in children. Some of them are;

Obesity

Children who are obese face more risk of suffering from gallstones than children who are slim and fit. This is because obesity will lead to the rise in cholesterol levels in the body which can cause stones to form in the gallbladder.

Genetics

Gallstones are also a hereditary condition and can be passed on from parents or grandparents. If anyone in your family suffers from this, then there are chances that your child may also suffer from it.

Cholesterol Drugs

In case the child is taking in some medicines for lowering cholesterol levels in the body, these medicines also lead to stone formations in the gallbladder.

Diabetes

If the child is already suffering from type 2 diabetes, then they are more susceptible to gallstone problems at an early age itself.

Diagnosing Gallstones In Children

There are many ways to diagnose gallstones in children which your doctor may prescribe. Some of the diagnostic methods are:

  • CAT Scan: CAT/CT scan helps to get detailed pictures of the gallbladder and bile duct
  • Abdominal X-ray: Even though the vast majority of gallstones will not show up on an x-ray, some of them can be detected by means of abdominal x-ray.
  • Blood Tests: There are blood tests which helps not only to detect the gallstones but also signs of infection, obstruction, jaundice or other problems associated with gallstones.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound is the most common test performed detect gallstones in children. A stone, as minute as 1.5 mm, can be detected by ultrasonography
  • ERCP: Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography helps to find and remove gallstones in the bile ducts
  • MRCP: Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography takes comprehensive pictures of bile and the biliary tract
  • Cholescintigraphy: Cholescintigraphy also called HIDA scan creates pictures of the liver, gallbladder, biliary tract and small intestine, which allows the doctor to observe how well the child’s gallbladder contracts.

Treating Gallstones In Children

There are a few effective methods of treating gallstones in children. Children will suffer acute pain in the abdomen due to gallstones, hence the following treatments may be provided by the doctor to remove it.

  • Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: A surgical procedure where the gallbladder is removed from the stomach. It is performed after giving general anesthesia to the child.
  • Open Cholecystectomy: A complex Procedure where an incision is made in the abdomen to remove the stones. This is performed if  there is hindrance with the safe performance of the laparoscopy. If there is scarring, inflammation, bleeding, open cholecystectomy is performed.
  • Electrohydraulic lithotripsy (EHL):  It is a non-invasive procedure to fragmentise and remove the gallstones from the child’s body by means of high-energy shock waves.

Preventing Gallstones In Kids

Here are some simple tips to prevent and manage gallstone formations in children

  • Chart A Healthy Diet
    A healthy diet will help avoid the formation of gallstones. Do not provide your child with foods rich in cholesterol. If your child suffers from obesity, try to chart out an exercise plan to keep him or her physically engaged. Maintaining a healthy diet will also help avoid other illnesses and diseases in children.
  • Don’t Skip Meals:
    Skipping a meal not only causes gallstone formations, but it also leads to other types of sickness. Ensure your child does not skip meals or fast as this can induce the formation of gallstones in the child.