The most common gallbladder problem is gallstones. They are not really stones, but pieces of solid material that are formed in the gallbladder. Gallstones can cause inflammation and pain when they block the bile duct. This results in inflammation and abdominal pain.
Women are more likely to develop gallstones. Changes in sex hormones can increase gallstone production. Estrogen boosts the amount of cholesterol in the bile and progesterone slows the emptying of the gallbladder.
The risk of forming gallstones is increased slightly by pregnancy or consumption of oral contraception, which affects the hormonal levels. Women between 20 to 60 years are more likely to develop gallstones than men.
Symptoms of gallstones for women
Generally, gallstones do not prompt symptoms. However, if it becomes lodged in a duct and causes blockage, the following signs may appear
- Severe and sudden pain in the upper right abdomen and possibly extending the upper back
- Clay-colored stool
- Severe nausea and vomiting
5 Digestive problems including bloating, indigestion, heartburn and gas
- Abdominal pain: The pain usually erupts after eating and can last up to hours. It is more likely to be triggered by large and fatty meals. The pain is usually in the upper right abdomen but it can radiate to the upper back and center of the abdomen. Chronic, ongoing pain that remains for a few hours may suggest more severe gallbladder issues.
- Clay-colored stool: If the stools are pale or clay-colored, you may have a problem with the biliary system. It means bile salts are released in your stool by the liver. Severe nausea and vomiting: A lot of women mistake gallbladder problem for an upset stomach, heartburn or acid reflux. Sometimes they even mistake gallbladder pain like muscle pain. But if nausea or vomiting recurs repeatedly after eating, that might be an indication of gallbladder disease. While nausea is not a common symptom, in this situation you should probably go to a healthcare center.
- Jaundice: Jaundice is a symptom of liver problems. The symptoms are yellowing of the skin, white eyes along with pale colored stools and dark urine. The gallbladder releases bile into the small intestine through a tube which connects the bile duct. Jaundice occurs when these ducts are obstructed. The blockage can cause bile to build up in the gallbladder and increase the concentration of a yellowish substance.
- Digestive problems: The pancreas is just next to the liver and discharges digestive enzymes into the same area of the digestive tract as bile. The stone in one can affect the functions of the other. If the gallstone exits and gets stuck in the pancreatic duct, it can cause inflammation and abdominal pain. This also gives rise to digestive problems like bloating, indigestion or heartburn.
Also Read: Gallbladder Cancer Causes and Early Symptoms
Some women also experience “silent gallstones”. This means they do not experience pain or have symptoms. But for those who experience pain or low-grade gallbladder inflammation, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove gallstones. In some cases, the doctor may discover the gallstones on an ultrasound or CT scan done during pregnancy or for other reasons.
Gallstones in women during pregnancy
During pregnancy, the chances of having gallstones increase due to decreased gallbladder motility and increased cholesterol saturation of bile. Gallstone disease has been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and maternal morbidity.
Do not avoid gallstone symptoms during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor, if you feel you are at higher risk of gallstones or if you notice any worrisome symptoms during pregnancy.
Consult a doctor if you notice any of the above symptoms. You will not need treatment if your gallstones don’t cause symptoms. Still, you may want to make lifestyle changes to prevent them from getting bigger and causing bigger problems.