As we enter the holiday season, many people tend to eat a lot of high-fat foods. For a few people, increasing the intake of high fat foods can prompt a painful condition known as biliary colic or a gallbladder attack.
The gallbladder is a small (3” x 2”) reservoir for bile. Bile is made by the liver and transported to the gallbladder for storage by a small tube or duct, and is made of several components including bile salts and cholesterol that aid in the absorption of fatty acids. Whenever you eat a fatty meal the gallbladder is stimulated to contract and secrete the bile into your gastrointestinal tract.
According to Kyle B. Vincent, MD, a surgeon with Via Christi Clinic, stones can form within the gallbladder because of imbalances in bile salts and cholesterol. These stones can become lodged in the small duct exiting the gallbladder and this can cause pain when the gallbladder contracts.
“Traditionally women over age 40 who have had children are at the highest risk of developing gallstones,” says Dr. Vincent. “There are some diseases and medical conditions that can predispose you to gallstones such as Crohn’s disease or previous ileal (a region of small bowel) resection. However, gallstones can strike men and women at any age.”
Here are some symptoms of gallbladder disease that Dr. Vincent recommends you watch for:
- Pain underneath the right rib cage and radiating to their back
- Pain occurring 30 minutes to two hours after eating high fat foods
- Feeling bloated or nauseous; occasional vomiting associated with the pain.
Unfortunately, there are no medications to prevent gallstones or treatments to break them up. Surgical removal of the gallbladder is usually the only permanent treatment. This can usually be completed with laparoscopic surgery in which a small camera is inserted through a small hole, and surgical instruments are used to remove the gallbladder as opposed to a large open incision.