Difference Between Gallstones and Kidney Stones

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 28, 2023

       

Difference Between Gallstones and Kidney Stones

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Introduction

Keeping your body fit and healthy should be considered 'the topmost priority in our lives'. Different parts and organs of our body have diverse functions and at the same time, can have diseases and issues that can cause a barrier to our health. Forming Stones in the body parts is becoming an issue nowadays. Stones can emerge in various parts of our bodies, like kidneys, gallbladder, salivary gland, prostate gland, pancreas, and bladder. Kidney stones and Gallstones are the most prominent places where stones arise. These can cause severe pain and can also lead to the need for surgery.

The Kidney is like a filter for getting the body rid of wastes and toxic material. Our kidney also helps maintain our bones strong by regulating the proper flow of blood. Gallbladder has the primary function to store and concentrate bile. Bile helps in breaking down fat and thus aids the digestive system.

Gallstones vs Kidney Stones

Both Gallstones and Kidney stones are usually a few millimetres in size but can cause severe pain. Although, they are pretty similar in terms of pain but emerge in different systems of the body. Another similarity is that they have no symptoms until they enlarge in size.

The principal difference between Gallstones and Kidney Stones is that Gallstones are hard lumps of digestive fluids found in the gall bladder or the bile duct; on the contrary, Kidney Stones are solid crystalline substances formed in the urinary tract. They both have distinctive compositions and occur in different systems of the body.

We shall discuss more regarding the differences between Gallstones and Kidney stones below.

Difference Between Gallstones and Kidney Stones in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonGallstonesKidney Stones
LocationGallstones get formed in the Gallbladder.Kidney stones are formed in the Urinary tract.
BlockageGallstones block the movement of bile in the digestive system.Kidney stones block the flow of urine.
CompositionGallstones are composed of Cholesterol, Bilirubin, and Bile-salts.Kidney stones are made up of Uric acid, calcium, oxalate, and phosphate.
Pain LocationSevere pain is felt in the upper-right side or centre of the abdomen.Intense pain is experienced at the sides and lower half of the back.
Risk-groupsNative Indian-American women are at risk of the formation of Gallstones.Middle-aged men are more at risk of Kidney Stones formation.
PreventionHaving a balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and whole wheat grains.Drinking plenty of water.Consuming lesser foods that are rich in oxalates.
Contributing foodsFried snacks, processed and refined foods; high-fat red meat, butter, cream, etc.Beetroot, tea, almost all nuts, spinach, chocolate, and tomato.
ComplicationsKidney infections, puss formation, perforation in the ureter, scarring of the ureter, etc.Empyema in the gallbladder, reduced blood flow to soft tissue, bile infection, and other gallbladder infections.

What are Gallstones?

First, let's get familiar with the organ itself- the Gallbladder. It is a pear-shaped, small organ situated in the upper right abdominal area. It is also known as Cholesyst. It is the place where the bile gets concentrated before releasing it to the small intestine. The Gallbladder can get affected by Gallstones prominently. Now, what are Gallstones?

Gallstones are constituted of an insoluble substance such as bilirubin or cholesterol. They may cause severe pain in the upper right abdomen. Gallstones can form in different sizes, ranging from a grain of sand to a carom coin. 

Causes of Gallstones

  • The main cause of the formation of Gallstones is the chemical imbalances in bile inside the Gallbladder. What causes these imbalances? This query is being researched by scientists. 
  • Gallstones can also form due to excess cholesterol in your bile. Having too much cholesterol can lead to yellow cholesterol stones. These stones form when your liver develops more cholesterol than your bile can digest.
  • Gallstones also develop when your Gallbladder does not break down excess Bilirubin. Bilirubin is a chemical which forms during the breakdown of RBCs. It passes through the liver and then gets secreted out of the body. Some disorders can cause your liver to produce extra Bilirubin. Therefore, its excess causes Gallstones. These stones are generally black or dark brown.
  • Gallstones can also develop in case your Gallbladder does not empty itself. Due to this, the bile becomes exceedingly concentrated and thus, stones get formed.

Symptoms of Gallstones

  • Pain in the upper right abdomen is the most prominent symptom of Gallstones. The pain may last only a few hours, but it is severe.
  • One may experience pain after eating foods having too much fat (fried foods, oily foods, etc.).
  • Some more symptoms may include- diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, tea-coloured urine, high fever, rapid heartbeat and a loss of appetite.
  • If left untreated, it may lead to yellowing of the skin, itching, chills, and confusion. 

Most symptoms are similar to other grave illnesses like pancreatitis, ulcers, and appendicitis, don't try to treat it yourself and go to see a doctor. Gallstones are not painful; the pain arises when they block the motion of the bile.

Treatment of Gallstones

You will not need treatment if your Gallstones are asymptomatic (not showing symptoms). If you experience pain, the doctor will recommend you for surgery. Cholesterol stones may get treated through medication, but pigment stones require surgery.

Surgical Treatment - The gallbladder is not a vital organ, which means you will not die without a gallbladder. Cholecystectomy is the most common surgery conducted for the removal of the Gallbladder. There are two types of cholecystectomy that surgeons perform:-

  1. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy - This is a type of surgery performed by surgeons most commonly. It requires general anaesthesia, three or four incisions in the abdomen through which the surgeon will insert a small lighted device and check for stones. Then, they will carefully remove your Gallbladder. If you do not have any complications, you can go home the same day. 
  2. Open cholecystectomy - Your surgeon will consider performing an open cholecystectomy surgery if problems occur while performing Laparoscopic or if your Gallbladder is acutely infected or inflamed. You may need to stay in the hospital for about a week after this surgery. It will take approximately a month to return to daily activity.

Nonsurgical Treatment - Surgeons generally prefer a nonsurgical treatment if the patient has cholesterol stones or if his/her body is not suitable for surgery. Even after taking medications, in this case, the gallstones may return. This is what it makes a little tricky. You may have to take regular treatment to ensure that- the gallstones are intercepted or removed as they return. A doctor may use the following treatments for cholesterol breakdown or removal:-

  1. Shock wave lithotripsy - This treatment is performed rarely by surgeons. A lithotripter is a machine that is utilised to break cholesterol gallstones into pieces. 
  2. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)- This treatment is practised by highly skilled surgeons and trained gastroenterologists. It involves the removal of a gallstone stuck in the bile duct.
  3. Oral dissolution therapy - Ursodiol and Chenodiol are medications that can break up gallstones. They work best for cholesterol gallstones. It may take months or years to get treated completely.
  4. Percutaneous drainage of the gallbladder - It is a therapeutic treatment involving the placement of a sterile needle into the gallbladder to aspirate bile. This procedure is used only in cases when other treatments are not suitable. 

What are Kidney Stones?

Kidney Stones are prevalent these days. Research states that more than half a million people visit the emergency room for kidney stone problems. Kidney stones are developed when your urine has high levels of dissolved salts and minerals. They start small but eventually grow in size.When there is too much waste is less liquid, stones begin to emerge. Some stones stay in the kidney and don't cause any pain. Some travel to the ureter, block the flow of urine from the kidney and result in pain.

Causes of Kidney Stones

To understand the causes of Kidney stones, it is important to know the types of kidney stones:-

  1. Cystine Stones - These include less than 1 per cent of stones. Cystine is an amino acid, which is one of the building blocks of protein. When high amounts of cystine are present in the urine, it causes stone formation. It usually occurs when the kidneys do not dissolve cystine.
  2. Uric acid stones -These include about 5 to 10 per cent of stones that form. Uric acid is a waste product that arises from chemical changes in the body. 
  3. Struvite/infection stones - These stones are less common. caused by infections in the upper urinary tract. These stones are large and grow in size faster. 
  4. Calcium oxalate stones - Calcium oxalate stones constitute about 80 per cent of stones. They get created when calcium gets combined with oxalate in the urine.

Some possible causes include obesity, too much or too little exercise, drinking less water, eating food containing too much salt or sugar, etc. Certain medical conditions also have a risk of an increase in kidney stones. Calcium and Vitamin C supplements can also cause the formation of stones in your Kidney.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Some common symptoms of Kidney Stones are:-

  • a feeling of an urgent need to urinate, frequently.
  • experiencing blood in the urine
  • high fever and chills
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain in either side of your lower back.

The larger the Kidney Stone, the more prominent the symptoms are. It starts to hurt when it blocks the way of the urine passage. Painkillers may be the only treatment for small kidney stones.

Treatment of Kidney Stones

  • Small kidney stones are most likely to pass on their own through urine. Waiting for 5-6 weeks for the stone to pass through urine is still safe if the pain is bearable.
  • Medication is another way of getting rid of Kidney stones. Some medicines have shown successful results in terms of improving the chances of a stone passing itself. Tamsulosin is the most common medicine that is prescribed by doctors that relaxes the ureter and lets the stone pass through.
  • The last treatment method and the most successful one is Surgery. Surgery is needed to remove the stone from the Kidney if the stone fails to pass through urine, the size of the stone is too large or the pain unbearable. Surgeries to remove Kidney stones are- Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL), Ureteroscopy (URS), and Percutaneous Lithotripsy (PCNL). Open, laparoscopic or robotic surgery can be used if all other less invasive procedures are unsuccessful.

Main Differences Between Gallstones and Kidney Stones (In Points)

  • Key difference- Gallstones develop in the digestive tract whereas Kidney stones get formed in the urinary tract. They arise in different systems of our body.
  • Gallstones cause blockage in the bile duct. Kidney stones block the urine flow through the kidney.
  • In gallstones, pain is experienced in the upper right abdomen. In kidney stones, severe pain is felt on either side and the lower part of the back.
  • Gallstones get dissolved through oral medication. Kidney stones get flushed through the urine by drinking plenty of water.
  • A diet high in fat and cholesterol can lead to the formation of Gallstones; a diet with excessive calcium or insufficient intake of fluids can lead to the development of Kidney stones.
  • Prevention of gallstones includes checking the amount of cholesterol you consume, reducing eating fried food, replacing red meat with fish, and so on. Preventing Kidney stones includes limiting salt intake, drinking plenty of water and maintaining a healthy weight.

Conclusion

Gallstones and Kidney stones both are extremely painful when they grow. Prevention is always better than cure, so we have explained the differences, their causes, symptoms and treatments in detail. Hopefully, the above article will help you become more aware of your body and its possible issues. It is difficult to determine what kind of pain you are feeling in your abdomen and what could be its cause. Therefore, it is always better to consult a doctor and get the treatment done before it gets too late.

References

  • https://www.kidney.org/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gallstones/

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"Difference Between Gallstones and Kidney Stones." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sat. 02 Mar. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-gallstones-and-kidney-stones>.



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