Gallstone Disease: Your Questions Answered
If you’ve recently discovered that you have gallstones, you may have many questions about the disease and possible treatments for them. Don’t be worried that gallbladder surgery is your only option for a future free of gallstone pain. Diet and lifestyle habits can help greatly in the prevention of future gallstone formations and help keep future attacks less likely. While surgery is the most popular treatment option to prevent future gallbladder attacks, treatment solely depends on how your body reacts to your gallstones.
Who Is at Risk of Gallstone Disease?
Gallstones are much more common than you may think and can affect anyone. The American Liver Foundation estimates that by age 60, 10 percent of men and 20 percent of women will have gallstones.
Studies have found that you are more likely to develop gallstone disease if you are:
Female Pregnant Taking birth control Taking hormonal replacement therapy for menopause Take medications to lower cholesterol Over the age of 60 Have a family history of gallbladder disease There are also easier-to-control factors that can greatly increase your chances of developing gallstones, such as being overweight or obese, having diabetes, or having a poor diet.
It has been found that people with gallstones are actually more likely to find out they have gallstones by happenstance, typically through an ultrasound versus experiencing a painful gallbladder attack. If you happen to be one of these individuals, you have a high probability of never experiencing a gallstone attack.
Not sure if you haven’t experienced an attack? Typical symptoms of a gallbladder attack include: Right-sided chest pain below the rib cage Pain in the back or right-shoulder that is sensitive to touch Nausea Vomiting Gas Shortness of breath
If you are among those who have experienced an attack, the risk of experiencing another attack is much greater. Through regular check-ups with your gastroenterologist and by following a prescribed diet, you can help prevent the possibility of future gallbladder attacks.
Which Foods so I Avoid to Prevent Gallstone Formations or a Gallstone Attack?
Foods that are high in fat and cholesterol play a significant part in the formation of gallstones, which are generally a byproduct of too much cholesterol in the bile secreted by your liver. Types of foods to avoid include all fried foods, processed/packaged foods, whole-milk dairy products, and fatty red meats.
Continuing to eat these kinds of foods does increase your risk of encountering another attack.
Which Foods Should I Eat to Prevent or Alleviate Gallstone Disease?
Just as there are foods that contribute to gallstone disease, there are also foods that can actually help prevent future gallstone attacks or prevent gallstones from developing altogether.
Eating a diet high in fiber and low in fats and cholesterol has been shown to prevent the development of gallstone disease. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products, as well as drink plenty of water. Studies have also found that drinking coffee and small amounts of alcohol have been helpful in decreasing gallstone development.
Are There Any “Alternative Treatments” for Gallstone Disease?
A growing trend in gallbladder health is a gallbladder cleanse. The most popular choice for the cleanse involves drinking a combination of olive oil, Epsom salts, and apple and lemon juices for five or more days while abstaining from any other liquids or foods. The process is said to help eliminate any gallstones, but there is not any scientific evidence that it does work. As always, consult with a specialist before attempting any homeopathic remedies.
Are There Possible Complications That Can Be Caused by Gallstones?
If you decide to do nothing about your gallstones, there could be possible complications that arise in the future. Acute Cholangitis is a condition in which a gallstone blocks the bile duct. This blockage creates a bacterial infection that can be life-threatening. Symptoms will be abdominal pain, jaundice, and fever. Perforation of the gallbladder, also known as a gallbladder rupture, can happen due to gallstones. The rupture can cause an infection in the blood that can become life-threatening. Symptoms include sharp abdominal pains, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Acute Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, is caused by gallstones blocking the opening to the pancreas. The blockage prevents the enzymes produced by the pancreas from flowing into the intestine to digest food. This blockage can cause the enzymes to build-up and inflame the pancreas.
When Is Gallbladder Surgery Absolutely Necessary?
Surgery really becomes a viable treatment option if you have experienced multiple gallbladder attacks. Multiple attacks can indicate future serious health complications, which can be prevented through the removal of your gallbladder. There are two different surgical options available for removing your gallbladder: Open cholecystectomy: this surgery involves making a 4- to 6-inch incision in the right upper portion of your abdomen in order to remove the gallbladder. This surgery typically requires longer hospitalization and recovery time. You may also experience significant postoperative pain and a large scar. This type of surgery is usually only used when laparoscopic cholecystectomy does not make sense for you. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy: this surgery is the preferred method for removing the gallbladder. Rather than making a large incision, the surgeon makes four tiny cuts in your abdomen. A laparoscope is then inserted through an incision made under your navel, allowing the surgeon to see the interior of your abdomen. Using surgical instruments, the gallbladder is cut free and pulled through one of the incisions. The procedure is quite short and you may experience less postoperative pain and be able to go home the same day.
What Are the Complications Associated With Gallbladder Surgery?
While a cholecystectomy is considered a relatively safe procedure, as with any surgery, there are risks of developing complications with gallbladder surgery.
Possible complications include:
- Infection around the incision
- Bile leakage into your abdomen
- Injury to other organs during surgery