There is a clear correlation between gallstones and pregnancy. If you are a woman, you are 2 – 3 times more likely to have gallstones than men.
In addition, if you are pregnant, you increase that risk even more due to the elevation of estrogen that occurs during pregnancy. Higher levels of estrogen causes a rise in cholesterol which leads to the development of gallstones.
It is important for you to know the symptoms of gallstones so you can recognize when to seek care before this condition becomes a medical emergency.
Purpose of the Gallbladder
This tiny storage organ can cause all kinds of complications while you are pregnant. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver with the sole purpose of releasing it into the small intestine when our body needs it. This release helps us to digest fat and dairy.
Bile is comprised of cholesterol, bilirubin, and bile salts. If the makeup of bile is not balanced properly, it can create stones and the slowing of gallbladder contractions. For example, too much cholesterol, or too much bilirubin and not enough bile salts can develop gallstones.
Symptoms and Complications of Gallstones During Pregnancy
Not everyone experiences symptoms with gallstones, but if you do, they can be quite serious. The following occurrences are all signs of a gallstone:
- Severe and continuous pain in the upper right part of the abdomen especially after a fatty meal
- Intense itching
- Pain in the upper abdomen which moves into the right shoulder and back
- Severe abdominal pain lasting more than five hours
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills may be present
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Dark urine
- Clay colored stools
Seek immediate medical attention with any combination of these symptoms. Gallstones cause inflammation and can develop into cholestasis of pregnancy, and the slowing of gallbladder contractions. This most often occurs due to an insufficient amount of bile release.
Excess hormone production is another common contributor to gallstones. Having too much estrogen in the body increases the amount of cholesterol in our bile, which then begins to trigger cholestasis of pregnancy and additional complications.
Prevention of Gallstones
It is possible to prevent gallstones by controlling the amount of cholesterol in your diet and the amount of weight you gain. Obesity increases your risk to develop gallstones.
Consult with your Women’s Health Partners obstetrician to develop a strategy on the avoidance of excess weight.
Eat lots of high fiber foods and the right fats. Concentrate on monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fats to help prevent stones from forming. Avoid high saturated fats like red meats, dairy, and fried foods.
Cut back on sugar and white flour like pasta, crackers, bread, and chips.
Managing diabetes is essential during pregnancy. Not only will monitoring this condition help reduce your risk for gallstones, but it also provides a wealth of other opportunities in regards to your overall health.
It is hard to give up all the foods you crave during pregnancy. Who doesn’t want a juicy cheeseburger, or to sit with a bag of chips at night? Sadly, neither of these choices possess much benefit to you or your little one. Stay focused during this special time by lowering cholesterol intake and preventing gallstones.
See a specialist at Women’s Health Partners right away if you suspect you may have gallstones.