What are some common symptoms of gallbladder disease? What things should I look out for?
I assume you’re talking about gallstones, which are the most widespread form of gallbladder disease. The gallbladder’s purpose is to store and transmit bile, an enzyme involved in the digestion of fat. Gallstones form from crystallized bile. The majority of stones are composed of cholesterol, an ingredient of bile.
Gallstones may lodge inside the gallbladder, or in one of the ducts running to and from the gallbladder itself or between the liver (located just above the gallbladder) and the small intestine. The stones can also block the pancreatic duct.
Gallstones are very common, but most people who have them don’t know it because they never have symptoms. That’s not a problem because asymptomatic gallstones rarely cause problems and usually need no treatment.
When symptoms do develop, they tend to come on suddenly and severely, in a gallstone “attack.” Symptoms may include:
- pain in the upper abdomen, particularly the right quadrant, lasting more than 30 minutes
- pain in the central part of the upper back or under the right shoulder
- symptoms that mimic indigestion, such as gas pains and belching (Indigestion may cause these symptoms or the symptoms may represent a condition unrelated to gallstones.)
- jaundice, or a yellowish cast to the skin and whites of the eyes
You can’t do anything about some of the risk factors for gallstones, but a few can be controlled and may reduce your risk. Risk factors include:
- gender — women get them far more often than men
- being overweight
- rapid weight loss
- race or ethnicity (gallstones are more common among Native Americans and Mexican-Americans)
- family history
- taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
Insufficient exercise, as well as eating a diet that’s high in fat and sugar and low in fiber may also increase the risk of developing gallstones. However, this has not been proven.