Reducing Your Risk of Gallbladder Disease
Q: Last week my sister found out that she needs to have her gallbladder removed.
This comes only eight months after my mom had hers taken out. I know gallstones
tend to run in families, and since my sister's only two years older than
I am, I figure I must be next. Is there any way to lower my risk?
Dr. Donnica: You're right; gallstones do run in families. The good
news is that there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk. You should
know, however, that gallstones are very common. They account for more than 800,000
hospitalizations annually in the US and are believed to affect more than 20 million
Americans. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected, in large part because
of several additional risk factors: birth control pills, multiple pregnancies,
obesity, and rapid weight loss diets. When I was in medical school, we learned
that the typical gallstone patient is female, fat, fertile, and forty. In fact,
gallstones can be found in anyone. The other known risk factors include blood
diseases with rapid breakdown of red blood cells (e.g. sickle cell anemia or hereditary
spherocytosis), cirrhosis, Crohn's disease, diabetes, pancreatic disease, and
hyperparathyroidism. If you have any of these conditions, treating them will reduce
your risk of gallstones.
The first thing you should focus on is a dietary strategy. If you are overweight,
take a slow and steady course to weight loss, like a Weight Watchers program,
and then maintain a healthy weight. Increase your consumption of both soluble
(e.g. guar gum and pectin, oat bran, wheat bran, and soy fiber) and insoluble
fiber. An easy way to do this is to increase your consumption of fruits and
veggies. While you don't have to become a vegetarian, they are known to
have a significantly lower incidence of gallstones. If you like coffee, you
are in luck: Coffee drinking has also been associated with a reduced risk of
gallstone symptoms. Regular aerobic exercise, such as jogging, running, racquet
sports, and brisk walking for 30 minutes five times a week, will not only help
you with your weight management goals, but it may also significantly reduce
your risk of gallbladder disease. As for preventive medicines, there is some
controversy about whether nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin
or ibuprofen, may help reduce risk. There is also a prescription drug called
Actigall® which is FDA approved to prevent gallstones.
Created: 8/8/2005  - Donnica Moore, M.D.