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Gallbladder Disease

The gallbladder is a small organ found under the liver that is used to store bile until it is needed to help with the digestion of fat. Gallbladder disease is a common condition that affects mainly women although men can suffer from it too.

There are varying symptoms that begin mainly after food with the most common being abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. The main cause of gallbladder disease is gallstones. The majority of gallstones are formed by cholesterol, bilirubin or bile salts that have hardened and can be as small as a grain of sand, or as big as a golf ball.

Gallstones are a common health problem and usually have no symptoms unless the stone is of sufficient size to block the normal passageway of the stored bile. This can lead to inflammation of the gallbladder and/or, on rare occasions, inflammation of the liver or pancreas resulting in hospitalisation. The most common and definitive treatment for gallstones is to have the gallbladder surgically removed and this is now usually done through 'keyhole' or laparoscopic surgery.

What causes gallstones?

Doctors believe that cholesterol stones form when bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin, or not enough bile salts, or when the gallbladder does not empty the bile as it should. However, other factors that contribute to gallstones have been identified, especially for cholesterol gallstones and these include:

  • being overweight or obese - are you?
  • diabetes
  • rapid weight loss
  • fasting
  • excess oestrogen - from pregnancy, HRT or contraceptive pills
  • ethnic origin
  • gender - women more likely than men
  • cholesterol lowering medication
  • age

How to prevent gallstones

Although you can't entirely prevent gallstones from forming, you may be able to lower your risk by following these suggestions:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Avoid crash diets or a very low intake of calories — less than 800 calories a day.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Choose a low-fat, high-fibre, healthy diet that emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Reduce the amount of animal fat, butter, margarine, mayonnaise and fried foods you eat