The Correlation Between Gallstones and Pregnancy

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Non-Essential Appointments Cancelled

Due to COVID-19, we will be reaching out to you to reschedule any non-essential appointments (re: physicals, annuals, and other well visits) until further notice.

COVID-19 is causing things to change rapidly and our operations can vary because of this. We ask for your understanding and that you check our website for the latest on operational hours and services available.

You can also call ahead if you have questions.

We are proud of our staff who are working during this time, and pledge to you our highest service possible during this pandemic.

Patient/Visitor Guideline Update

In an effort to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission and provide a safer environment and promote social distancing which is recommended by the CDC, we are asking that patients limit the number of people accompanying them to an appointment. No visitors (including children) will be allowed to accompany each patient unless a specific patient needs extra support. We encouraged visitors to remain closely connected to their loved ones through virtual means, including Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and/or phone.

Additionally, we are respectfully asking that children not accompany any adult patients, unless there is a medical necessity. We know this may cause scheduling challenges, particularly for families with younger siblings, but we can all play a role in reducing the spread of this virus. Thank you for understanding our need to do so and for helping us keep you and our greater community healthy.

We are also asking any patients with a cough, shortness of breath or fever not to come to our facility and call ahead of time. You will be directed to another facility for evaluation.

All patients are to wash their hands before and after their visit. Hand washing, social distancing, and self-isolation are still the best ways to prevent this virus from spreading more widely.

We are committed to providing the best care to you and will continue to give you the best guidance we can.

Please monitor our COVID-19 updates by clicking here. 

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