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How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Getting Gallstones?

Gallstones are very common and tend to run in families. 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. The good news is that there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk.

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. 

To lower 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: 9/5/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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