Gallbladder Disease

Gallbladder disease is very common in women in their 50s especially postmenopausal women.

When the ratio of progesterone to estrogen changes in women the gallbladder becomes sluggish and doesn’t drain bile as effectively. Family history and body weight are also relative.

Taking high doses of estrogen/hormone replacement therapy creates a higher risk of developing gallstones although taking low doses of estrogen does not increase the risk. Women producing excess estrogen during pregnancy or those taking birth control pills are more at risk of developing gallbladder problems. People with diabetes and people taking cholesterol-lowering drugs are also more at risk of developing gallbladder disease.

Gallbladder disease symptoms can remain silent for many years, however, once they present they persist and increase in frequency.

What Are Gallstones?

Gallstones form when liquid stored in the gallbladder hardens into pieces of rock-like deposits. The liquid called bile, is used to help the body digest fats. Bile is made in the liver, then stored in the gallbladder until the body needs to digest fat. At that time, the gallbladder contracts and pushes the bile into a tube called a duct that carries it to the small intestine, where it aids with digestion.

Bile contains water, cholesterol, fats, bile salts and bilirubin (a byproduct from the breakdown of red blood cells). Bile salts break up fat and bilirubin gives bile and stools a brownish colour. If the liquid bile contains too much cholesterol, bile salts or bilirubin, it can harden into stones.

The two types of gallstones are:-

Cholesterol Stones and Pigment Stones

Cholesterol stones are normally yellow green and are largely made of hardened cholesterol. They account for approximately 80% of gallstones.

Pigment stones are small, dark stones made of bilirubin. Gallstones can be made as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. The gallbladder can develop just one stone or hundreds of tiny stones, or indeed any combination.

If a gallstone blocks the bile from draining from the gallbladder you may experience a strong, deep ache. Blockage of the bile duct can build up and cause serious infection in the bile duct, gallbladder, pancreas or liver.

Gallbladder Disease Symptoms

When the stones get caught in the gallbladder outlet, symptoms include:-

Persistent, severe pain in the upper abdomen that increases rapidly and lasts for several hours.
Pain in the back between the shoulder blades. Pain can spread to the neck, chest or back.
Pain under the right shoulder
Decreased appetite
Recurring intolerance of fatty foods

Surgical Removal

When gallstones reach the stage where the pain is constant, surgical removal is the best option as research shows that other therapies/non surgical options do not prove to be as effective as gallbladder removal. Some people are able to reduce their symptoms by making lifestyle changes, however, in the main people can’t make these the norm, therefore, even if you do manage to put your symptoms on hold, most doctors will still recommend removing the gallbladder.

Gallstones can be detected by either ultrasound or CT scan but not usually by x-ray alone. If you prove to have gallstones you will most probably have further blood tests to rule out pancreas or liver problems.

The risks of not having your gallbladder surgically removed can include rupture, gallbladder infection and sepsis (blood infection). Although these are not common risks and are usually not life threatening, they do add to the overall benefits of the gallbladder being removed. Warning signs of a serious problem are fever, jaundice and persistent pain.

Surgery takes the form of a laparoscopic procedure (keyhole) with low risk of complications. Most patients either go home the following day or as little as eight hours following surgery.

Body Weight

Although weight loss won’t cure gallbladder disease, keeping your weight within a healthy range may decrease the chances of a gallbladder problem occurring. Incidences of gallstones are higher in women who have a higher body fat ratio. If you are trying to lose weight, try to lose it slowly as rapid excessive weight loss can also trigger the development of gallstones.

Most Common Triggers for Gallbladder Pain Symptoms – Attacks

Foods to Avoid
Dairy products (butter, cheese, ice-cream)
Greasy or deep fried food
Processed food (pies, biscuits,,)
Fatty red meat

Recommended Diet
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Whole grains (whole-wheat bread, brown rice, bran cereal, oats)
Low fat dairy products
Lean meat, poultry and fish

**Eat a diet low in fat and cholesterol, moderate in calories and high in fibre**
**Avoid low calorie diets – if you are overweight aim for a gradual weight loss of 1-2 pounds a week, following a healthy diet and regular exercise**


Simonsen, M. H. (2013) Postmenopausal estrogen therapy and risk of gallstone disease: a population-based case-control study. Retrieved from

Davis, J. L. (2001) Hormone Therapy May Increase Risk of Gallstones. Retrieved from

Simonsen, M. H, et al. (Dec 2013) Postmenopausal estrogen therapy and risk of gallstone disease: a population-based case-control study. Retrieved from

Lui, B. Gallbladder disease and use of transdermal versus oral hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women: prospective cohort study. Retrieved from BMJ2008;337:a386



Page Last Updated on July 29, 2017