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Gall Bladder Disease

A healthy body weight can decrease the chances of gall stone formation.

Gall bladder disease can lead to gallstones and a reduced flow of bile to the liver. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Gall bladder disease can lead to gallstones and a reduced flow of bile to the liver.

Gall Bladder Disease

Gall bladder disease occurs when the gall bladder forms stones or the duct is blocked. The gall bladder, a pear-sized sac located under the liver, stores bile produced by the liver and releases bile into the upper small intestines to aid in the digestion of fats. Bile contains salts, cholesterol, bilirubin (broken down red blood cells) and lecithin (a phospholipid that protects cells). Gall stones form when cholesterol and bilirubin crystallize and can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball.

Gall bladder disease is characterized by inflammation, infection, gall stones, obstruction of the gall bladder and reduced flow of bile into the liver. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, more than 25 million Americans have gallstone disease and nearly 1 million will be diagnosed this year.

Symptoms of Gall Bladder Disease

Cholecystitis is a condition in which stones or crystals block the gall bladder's cystic duct, preventing bile from reaching the liver. Blockages lasting more than six hours can cause pain, fever or nausea. Symptoms of gall bladder disease include abdominal fullness or gas, abdominal pain occurring after meals or when inhaling, abdominal pain after eating fatty foods, chest pain, chills, heartburn and nausea or vomiting.

Treatment typically involves a cholecystectomy in which the gall bladder is removed through traditional surgery or through the laparoscopic technique. The medication ursodiol is used in special cases to shrink gall stones.

Hereditary and Lifestyle Causes

Women are more likely to get gall bladder disease than men because estrogen causes more cholesterol to be excreted in bile. Women over 20 years old and pregnant women are at higher risk. Men over 60 are also at risk.

Hereditary factors may contribute to gall bladder disease. These factors include overproduction of cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile; poor gall bladder muscle contraction; Type 2 diabetes; a family history of gall stones, liver disease or high cholesterol; Native American or Mexican ancestry; and blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia or leukemia.

Many lifestyle choices create a high risk of getting gall bladder disease. These risks include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, use of birth control pills, use of hormone therapy for menopause, use of cholesterol-lowering drugs and participation in crash diets in which a lot of weight is lost in a short amount of time.

Avoid Gall Bladder Disease with Diet

According to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Heath, gall bladder disease is not preventable in most cases. However, certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of having gall bladder problems.

To lower the risk of gall stone formation, the Mayo Clinic advises people to maintain a healthy body weight. Crash diets should be avoided as they can disrupt bile chemistry and cause the gall bladder to contract less often. People should lose weight slowly, such as a maximum of 2 pounds per week, and should take in no fewer than 800 calories per day; eat low-fat, high-fiber foods rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains; and reduce intake of high-fat foods like butter, mayonnaise, animal fat and dairy and fried foods.

Some fat in the diet is healthy; 20 to 35 percent of total calories should come from fat. No one should skip breakfast or go long periods without eating.

People should avoid weight cycling, which is losing and gaining weight often, as it is a high-risk factor for developing gall stones, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Weight cycling raises cholesterol levels, which may affect gallstone production. Women especially should not lose and regain more than 10 pounds.

Avoid bariatric surgery to lose weight, as it is another risk factor for developing gall stones. Bariatric surgery reduces the size of the stomach and bypasses part of the digestive system.

Exercise to Avoid Gall Stones

Individuals should also partake in physical activity 60 minutes per day to help maintain body weight. A University of Illinois study found that mice who exercised had fewer gall stones than sedentary mice, according to the Journal of Applied Physiology. Exercise was found to increase cholesterol uptake by the liver, reduce cholesterol in the bile, improve cholesterol circulation and inhibit gall stone formation.

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