Biliary obstructions are those things which block the bile duct causing bile fluid (otherwise known as gall) to back up into the liver. The results of such blockages may lead to dietary anemia, jaundice, or biliary colic (a condition characterized be severe abdominal pain, profuse sweating, and vomiting).
Most of these conditions can be laid at the doorstep of bile duct stones, an obstruction formed by excess cholesterol and body salts. The causes and treatments for bile duct stones can be similar to those of gallstones, but the problem is distinct. Although it would be possible to have a bile duct stone without having a gallstone, it is unlikely. And the two problems tend to coexist.
The liver is responsible for producing bile. Bile is used to break down fats and to neutralize the stomach’s acidity in the material pushing into the intestines. The bile secreted directly from the liver is usually sufficient to break down the fats in an ordinary balanced diet; a reserve of fluid is stored in the gallbladder. When a certain level of fat is detected in the material passing into the intestines, a hormone is secreted that causes the gallbladder to contract, releasing an extra dose of bile into the mix.
Bile is an alkaline liquid, and one of its main components is cholesterol. Other common elements are mineral salts, protein, and a couple of pigmentations. Therefore, if there is too much cholesterol in the diet, and the liver is unable to process the excess properly, too much may pass into the bile duct, causing a slow build up. Also, the salts and protein can accrete where there is perhaps a “seed” of cholesterol stuck in the duct, creating a bile duct stone over time.
These bile duct stones, as with gallstones, restrict the body’s ability to properly process its digestible material. Nutrients are lost, leading to other health issues (hypoglycemia, various anemias, etc.). Gallstones can many times be treated and relieved with medications. Other times, a non-invasive procedure using directed sound waves can break up the stone in-place, and it flushes through the body.
Bile duct stones, in contrast, though having a pharmaceutical cure, take months of medications to dissolve and flush away. The restriction of the duct keeps the blockage in place. Similarly, the ultra-sound method of breaking up the bile duct stone may merely create smaller stones that remain lodged in the tightness of the duct. Untreated, a bile duct blockage can be life-threatening. The most common solution for relieving a bile duct stone is surgery. It is minimally invasive, and has a quick recovery time. The best way to control recurrence is by a well-balanced diet lower in cholesterol.