Gallstones During Pregnancy- Everything You Need To Know

5 min read

Pregnancy is a period when your body undergoes a lot of changes and you face different problems at different stages. Be it morning sickness, stretch marks, back pain or swollen feet, you have to deal with all this and much more during pregnancy. One common problem that may also creep up during this phase is the formation of gallstones. As such gallbladder problems occur more in women than men and pregnancy just increases the risk of developing gallstones all the more. Continue reading to know more about gallstones – its causes, symptoms and treatment and ways to prevent it during pregnancy.

How Does Pregnancy Affect Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small organ that lies just beneath the liver. Gall bladder stores bile, a substance that is produced by the liver, which helps with the digestion of fats. As food enters the small intestine from the stomach, the gallbladder contracts, and releases the bile into the intestine.
During pregnancy, the hormones, especially progesterone, causes muscle tissues in the body to relax, and this influences the gallbladder as well. As a result, the strength of the contraction of the gallbladder decreases, thus, slowing down the release of bile. That is why it is said that it is better to avoid excess fatty food during pregnancy.

How Do Gallstones Develop During Pregnancy?

Bile which is a bitter greenish-brown alkaline fluid produced by the liver is made up of water, cholesterol, fat, protein, bilirubin, and bile salts. If there is an imbalance in the amount of any of these substances that make up the bile, it can cause problem. So if there is insufficient bile salts, the bile can become concentrated and crystallized thus resulting in formation of “stones” in the gallbladder. Gallstones, if left untreated, can cause an infection or even lead to a ruptured gall bladder.

What Causes Formation Of Gallstones During Pregnancy?

As we already mentioned, women are more prone to the gallstones than men. Pregnancy increases the risk of gallstone formation. This is mainly due to the influence of the pregnancy hormones.

  • The estrogen produced over the course of pregnancy can increase the cholesterol levels in your bile. As we already mentioned, if the substances that make up the bile become imbalanced, then it can lead to the formation of gallstones
  • Because of the influence of the hormone progesterone (which relaxes the muscles and ligaments of the body), the contractions of the wall of the gallbladder will be less effective in pushing and emptying the bile properly. If the gallbladder is not emptied properly, the chance of the formation of gallstones also increases
Who Are At The Risk Of Developing Gallstones During Pregnancy?

Though pregnancy itself increases the chances of gallstone formation in women, the chances get even higher:

What Are The Symptoms Of Gallstones During Pregnancy?

The main symptoms of presence of gallstones during pregnancy include:

  • Pain: Pain the main symptom of presence of gallstones. Pain can be experienced in different area and its intensity ranges from sharp to moderate, mild, dull and throbbing.
    • It could be a consistent pain, which progresses steadily, and is mostly experienced on the right side of abdomen near the rib cage especially after having a fatty meal
    • Also, the pain can appear in the upper back between shoulder blade
    • If the abdominal pain continues for more than 5 hours, it could be a symptoms of presence of gallstones
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice signs (yellowing of skin or eyes)
  • Vomiting
  • Clay-colored stool

gallstones during pregnancy

How Are Gallstones Diagnosed During Pregnancy?

If the pregnant woman exhibits any of the above signs, the doctor will perform an ultrasound to diagnose the presence of gallstones. If nausea and vomiting which are the initial signs of the gallstones, appear in the first trimester, they may often be confused with morning sickness. However, if the symptoms still persist during the second trimester, the doctor will perform an ultrasound to check for gallstones.

Treatment For Gallstones During Pregnancy

Depending on the severity of infection and inflammation of gallbladder, the doctor may decide either to carefully monitor the pregnant woman throughout pregnancy or perform a surgery before delivery. If the doctor decides to do gallbladder surgery, it will be performed laparoscopically. In this procedure, the surgeon makes two small incisions in the abdomen that helps to insert the surgical instruments and a laparoscope which has a tiny camera that transmits the organ’s picture to a video monitor. The treatment option also depends on the intensity and how far the pregnancy has progressed.

  • If the gallstones occur during the first trimester, surgery is not recommended unless the condition is really bad. This is because the chances of miscarriage and birth defects increase as a result of the medication associated with the surgery. The doctor asks the mother to decrease the intake of fried and fatty food and try and postpone the surgery to the second trimester. He will also prescribe mild medicines to alleviate the pain
  • When the pregnancy progresses to the second trimester, if needed, surgery can be performed. This is the safest and easiest period to perform a laparoscopic procedure
  • When the pregnancy progresses to the third trimester, the doctor will again try to delay the surgery until delivery. This is because the growing uterus causes difficulty in performing a laparoscopic procedure. In addition, the chances of preterm labor also increase if a laparoscopic procedure is performed during this time
How To Prevent The Formation Of Gallstone During Pregnancy?

It is not possible to completely prevent gallstones. However, by taking the steps mentioned below you can definitely lower the risk of gallstone formation, especially, if you are more susceptible to it

  • Try to stick to recommended weight gain throughout pregnancy. Overweight is one of the major causes of formation of gallstones
  • Managing gestational diabetes and keeping it under control will decrease the risk of gallstone formation
  • Food rich in fats and low in fiber increases the chances of gallstone formation. Therefore, sticking to a low-fat and high fiber diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, will decrease the chances of gallstone formation
  • Drink plenty of water. It is essential to keep yourself hydrated during pregnancy to help flush away toxins and eliminate unwanted residues from the body
  • Keeping yourself fit and undertaking exercises that are considered safe during pregnancy can also help to prevent the formation of gallstones during pregnancy

Hope this article helped you to better understand the formation of gallstones during pregnancy and ways to prevent it. Please don’t forget to share your experience in the comments section below.

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