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Gallstones - Symptoms - Treatments - Prevention

Women Face Significantly Greater Risk for Gallstones


Updated June 19, 2014

Gallstones are the most common and costly digestive disease in the United States, causing more than 800,000 hospitalizations annually at estimated cost of over five billion dollars. More than 20 million Americans have gallstones and approximately one million new cases are diagnosed each year. Women are twice as likely as men to develop gallstones; the higher prevalence of gallstones in women is thought to be caused by multiple pregnancies, obesity, and rapid weight loss. Well over half a million people undergo cholecystectomy (surgical removal of the gallbladder) each year.

The normal function of the gallbladder is to store bile produced by the liver, and to aid in the digestion and absorption of fats in the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine). Gallstones compose a solid formation of cholesterol and bile salts. However, research shows that approximately 80 to 90 percent of all gallstones are cholesterol gallstones which form when the liver begins secreting bile that is abnormally saturated with cholesterol. The excess cholesterol crystallizes and then forms stones which are stored in the gallbladder or the cystic duct. Gallstones can also form due to low levels of bile acids and bile lecithin.

Who Is At Risk For Gallstones?

When I was diagnosed with gallstones at 26, I was told that the typical gallstone patient was fair, fat, and forty. Today gallstones are seen in younger patients, perhaps due to the large amount of fast foods being consumed. My daughter went through five years of vomiting beginning at age 15, leading me to almost believe that she was bulimic, before she was diagnosed with gallstones at age 20. Risk factors which can lead to increased incidence of gallstones include the "Four Fs:" fat, female, fertile, and flatulent, as well as sickle cell disease (bilirubin), cirrhosis, Crohn's disease, diabetes, pancreatic disease, and hyperparathyroidism.

Have Been Diagnosed With Gallbladder Disease?

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