Gallbladder Disease in Women

What is it?
Gallstones are the most common gallbladder problem. Stones are formed when substances that the gallbladder stores (cholesterol, toxins, metabolized drugs, and substances made to digest fats, which it puts out into the intestine through a duct) are concentrated from their liquid form to become a solid. Stones, in and of themselves, are not harmful. Many women have them for years and never know. Stones can eventually lead to a gallbladder attack, called cholecystitis (co-LEE-SIST-it-is). They can become problematic after eating a fatty meal. The gallbladder will try to expel its substances to digest the fats, but end up driving a gallstone into the duct, blocking it instead.

When a gallstone becomes lodged in the duct, a woman typically feels a severe, colicky pain on her right side, just under the ribs. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms, as well. Fever may be present. If a woman experiences these symptoms, she should contact her doctor or go to an emergency room. A combination of medications and surgery can prevent complications, such as widespread infection, pancreas problems, or jaundice.

The Risks
Fat, female, fertile, and forty. This is the classic textbook description of a gallbladder attack patient. Although gallbladder disease is not often thought of as a "women's disease," gallstones are three times as likely in women as men.

Family history of gallbladder disease, being overweight and in your forties, but not menopausal, having twinges of pain in the right upper abdomen after eating a high fat meal, and discovering gallstones incidentally on an x-ray taken for other reasons, are all associated with a higher risk of gallbladder disease.

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