Could cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal surgery) be the new trend or fad in today’s medicine? When I was a kid the medical question most asked was “do you have your tonsils?” Then it became “do you have your appendix?” And now it seems to be, or is at least becoming, “do you have your gallbladder?”
When Rock was knocked down with a “stomach ache” and diagnosed with a gallbladder problem, I started taking notice. I’ve had friends comment for years about their gallbladder aches and pains, but never took notice because it wasn’t “me”, as in my family. It’s closer to home now so I’m looking into this situation. Once you start paying attention you become aware of just how many people have had their gallbladders removed.
According to Merck.com there are more than 500,000 cholecystectomy’s done annually in the US. While the incidence of gallbladder disease has remained fairly constant, according to LaparoEndoscopy.com, the performance of cholecystectomy has increased dramatically. Laparoscopic surgery revolutionized cholecystectomy and the treatment of gallbladder disease. That approach was introduced into the US in 1989, and is now one of the top 10 surgeries performed in the US.
Are cholecystitis (glabbladder inflammation) and gallstones yet more evidence of the problems with a modern Western diet? I suspect so. I’d like to briefly explore what type of gallbladder problems there are, what causes gallbladder problems, and what options are available to help you feel better again. I don’t expect any absolute findings, but hopefully enough information exposed to help you before you get into trouble with your gallbladder.
The gallbladder, a 3-4 inch (7-10cm) pear shaped organ, tucks in below your liver in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. It stores bile, the digestive fluid produced in your liver, as a back-up source for the liver’s storage capacity. It’s like a cul de sac with one road (bile duct) in and out. The liver’s bile is used to help you digest meals, especially fatty ones. Removing the gallbladder is done through a laparoscopic procedure called a cholecystectomy. And it seems to be done frequently. Is it the right choice for Rock? At 86?
What can go wrong with your gallbladder? Here’s a list, culled from various online resources:
- gallstones in the gallbladder(cholelithiasis)
- gallstones in the bile duct (choledocholithias)
- obstruction of bile ducts, impairing bile flow (cholestasis)
- inflammation, or cholecycstitis
- bile reflux
- disorder of the gallbladder where it doesn’t empty readily (biliary dyskinesia)
- inflammation of the bile ducts (cholangitis)
- hardening of the bile ducts (primary schlerosing cholangitis)
It seems as if there’s a lot that can go wrong with your gallbladder.
There are four general causes of gallbladder problems including gallstones, infection, injury, and tumor. Prolonged labor, diabetes, hypothyroidism, being overweight, food allergies, and ethnicity can also impact your chances for gallbladder problems. Symptoms, usually occurring after a meal — especially a large or fatty one — may include:
- severe and constant pain in upper right quadrant of your abdomen, just under your ribs
- pain that radiates from your abdomen to your right shoulder or back
- tenderness of your abdomen at the gallbladder area
- indigestion, complete with burping/gas/bloating/heartburn
- constipation or diarrhea
- loss of appetite
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, 90 percent of gallstones are asymptomatic — meaning they aren’t causing any problems that the patient is noticing — and during the first ten years of getting gallstones there’s only a very slight chance (2 percent) of developing pain. Your chance for developing symptoms declines after ten years for some unknown reason. Should you have a problem, though, you should get it checked out because there can be serious repercussions of ignoring the “discomfort”.
What can you do to avoid gallbladder problems? I found several approaches, most concerned with diet. Diet solutions can roughly be categorized into a diet that potentially causes problems, a cleanse, and a diet that supports a healthy gallbladder function. The jury is out on whether a cleanse really makes a difference, and isn’t without potential problems itself.
GallBladderAttack.com had an eye-catching comment: “Major risk factors for gallbladder disease include a sedentary lifestyle and a diet rich in refined sugars. In genetically prone individuals, these two factors lead to an abnormal bile composition, altered gut microflora, and hyperinsulinemia, with resulting gallstone formation.” That sure sounds like a Western lifestyle to me. So potentially, many of us are at risk here. They go on to say that regular aerobic exercise, removing offending foods, and substituting unrefined carbohydrates for refined carbohydrates may be helpful in reducing your risk of gallbladder problems.