Monday, April 13, 2009

Gallstones: Should I Have Surgery?

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and we had a great time. Everything went well until after dinner. While I got the toddler ready for bed, I noticed a sharp pain below my chest. Unfortunately, the pain was familiar: gallstones.

I had my first gallstone colic about two years ago while I was pregnant with my second child. At the time, I had no idea what was happening to me. While I was meeting with a student, all of a sudden I got a severe pain below my chest, started sweating profusely, and nearly passed out. I went to the E.R., had several tests done, including numerous blood tests since my liver hormones were severely elevated, and several days later was finally diagnosed with gallstones. (I since did some research on my own and found out that pregnant women quite frequently have problems with gallstones. I don't know why it took my doctor several days to diagnose me at the time...) Apparently, I have lots of medium sized stones. Surgery was not a good option at the time because of my pregnancy, but I was supposed to schedule an appointment to get the gallbladder removed once I gave birth. Since nothing bothered me, I "forgot" about making an appointment...

Luckily, I was symptom free until about two months ago when I experienced another attack. At that time, I was in severe pain for about 7 hours. In addition to severe upper abdominal pain, I also vomited numerous times and had diarrhea. The pain is so bad that I am unable to walk or stand up.

I have an appointment to see my doctor this afternoon, and I know that she'll recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder. I really don't like the idea of surgery. Why am I so afraid of having my gallbladder removed? There are several reasons I guess. First, I don't like doctors, hospitals, etc. Second, while the gallbladder is not absolutely necessary, not having one can cause digestive problems, especially problems digesting fats. I know someone who had her gallbladder removed and had diarrhea for years. Not a pleasant thought! Third, IF I am able to have laparoscopic surgery, the recovery period should be relatively short and easy. BUT, you never know. There is always the possibility of complications. Plus, I have an 18 month old to run after. And he runs FAST!!! Finally, there is that thing called work. I really don't want to have surgery in the middle of the semester.

Well, rationally I know that I probably will have to have surgery as it is likely that I'll have another attack. And what do I do if I am with my toddler and become incapacitated during a gallstone colic and there is no one around to help? Not a pleasant thought. But I think it would be best if I had the surgery in the summer when I am off from teaching, and my husband can also take some time off. In the meantime, I can try to avoid foods that are known to cause problems with gallstones:
  • eggs - especially hard boiled, poached seem to be okay for many people (I totally forgot about this and had some hard boiled eggs yesterday!!! I read that up to 95% of people have symptoms after they eat hard boiled eggs...)
  • coffee - I just can't live without a cup of coffee in the morning - but I think I had a cup too many yesterday
  • fat, including fried foods - I don't think I had too much fat
  • milk - I was never a big milk drinker but started drinking milk every day during my second pregnancy
  • fruit juice - I had some orange juice yesterday morning, not something I usually do...
It seems that I ate/drank about everything that can cause problems with gallstones yesterday.... Well, we'll see what the doctor says later today...

Be well,


  1. my 70 year old aunt had hers removed and she's walking/eating around just fine. she may be the exception, but that's the only experience i have to offer! good luck

  2. much as I hate the thought of doctors, hospitals, and surgery I think that episode of pain and vomiting would have had me in a surgeon's office! But putting it off for all the reasons you listed makes sense. Good luck!

  3. Thanks, Kathy. Yes, I am beginning to realize that surgery is probably the way to go...

  4. FWIW, my mother (age 68) had her gallbladder removed last year and spent several nights in the hospital for recovery. The good news is that she has had no after effects from the removal--no digestive problems.