The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that is located under the liver in the upper-right quadrant of the abdomen. The main function of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile. Bile, a digestive juice secreted by the liver, flows from the gallbladder into the duodenum. It acts on the partly digested fatty foods and aids in the emulsification and digestion of fats. Since the flow of bile is regulated by the gallbladder, malfunctioning of the gallbladder can have an adverse impact on one's digestive health. Pregnant women are quite susceptible to developing problems associated with the gallbladder. Onset of gallbladder problems during and after pregnancy could be associated with interactions between certain hormones. Scroll down to find out more on the possible causes of gallbladder problems after pregnancy.
Does Pregnancy Increase the Risk of Gallbladder Problems?
A variety of bodily changes take place during the course of pregnancy. Fluid retention, increased cardiac output and many other changes occur due to the interplay of hormones, estrogen and progesterone. The secretion of estrogen and progesterone brings about relaxation of the muscular tissue throughout the body. Slowing down of contractions of gallbladder puts women at an increased risk of developing gallbladder disease during pregnancy. When the gallbladder is unable to empty bile into the duodenum, bile may harden into stone-like deposits called gallstones. Bile contains bile salts, cholesterol and bile pigments. Gallstones are formed when the concentration of cholesterol in bile is way beyond the normal levels. A person suffering from gallstones is most likely to experience symptoms such as abdominal bloating, nausea, heartburn, abdominal pain, belching or indigestion. In case of pregnant women, these symptoms are often confused with morning sickness. This is the reason why gallbladder-related problems may not be detected in the early stages.
For women who had been diagnosed with a malfunctioning gallbladder prior to pregnancy, gallbladder disease may worsen during or after pregnancy. Gallbladder may become sluggish if weight loss after delivery takes place at a very fast rate. Rapid weight loss may affect the composition of bile. When women lose weight at a rapid rate, the liver may start secreting higher amounts of cholesterol in bile, which in turn, may lead to the formation of gallstones. Gallstones can also form if women indulge in excessive consumption of foods that have a high cholesterol content. Use of hormone pills may also be responsible for elevating the levels of cholesterol in bile. Gallbladder removal is not recommended during pregnancy. During pregnancy, dietary changes and use of drugs may help in controlling the disease.
If symptoms persist after childbirth, doctors may suggest the removal of gallbladder. Once the gallbladder is removed, bile would flow from the common bile duct to the intestine. If the concentration of cholesterol is high in bile, then hardened stone-like deposits may form in the bile duct. This would also give rise to symptoms that are similar to those experienced during a gallbladder attack. Problems associated with gallbladder motility could also be responsible for the formation of gallstones. Relaxation and contraction of a valve called the sphincter of Oddi regulates the flow of bile from the liver into the small intestine. Women who have undergone surgery for gallbladder removal are at an increased risk of developing sphincter of Oddi dysfunction.
Treatment Options for Gallbladder Problems
Now that you have a basic idea on why women may be susceptible to gallbladder problems after childbirth, let's move on to the treatment options. Women with a sluggish gallbladder may develop intolerance to fatty foods which is why they may experience distressing symptoms after having fatty meals. Though drug therapy and diet modification can certainly help in alleviating such symptoms, in severe cases, conservative treatment options may not really work. Under these circumstances, other treatment options may be recommended. These include extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, oral dissolution therapy or cholecystectomy.
Shock wave therapy lithotripsy is one such treatment option wherein high energy ultrasound waves are directed at the stones to break them down. Oral dissolution therapy, on the other hand, aims at dissolving the gallstones. This is done by taking drugs that contain bile acid. Cholecystectomy refers to the removal of the gallbladder. In case of an open gallbladder surgery, a large incision is made in the abdomen to remove the diseased gallbladder. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is a minimally-invasive procedure, wherein a laparoscope is inserted through a small cut. Since a small camera is attached to this device, the surgeon can use the images to insert the instruments and remove the gallbladder through small-sized incisions.
On a concluding note, gallbladder problems after pregnancy may be a direct result of poor lifestyle choices. While following a proper diet may lower the risk of gallbladder disease during pregnancy, women who come under the high risk group must comply with dietary guidelines after pregnancy as well. Don't let gallbladder disease progress to such an extent that gallbladder removal becomes a necessity. Consult a doctor on experiencing aforementioned symptoms at the earliest.