What is a gallbladder attack and how can you prevent it?

Find out about causes, symptoms and signs of a gallbladder attack

What is the Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located just behind the liver, on the right side of the rib cage. The gallbladder acts as storage for bile, which aids in the breakdown of fats.

What are Gallstones?

Diseases of the gallbladder are commonly associated with the formation of gallstones, and they are more likely to appear in women than in men. Overweight or obese women, between 20 to 60 years of age and who are using birth control pills or hormonal replacement therapies are more predisposed to developing gallbladder disease. A high fat or high sugar diet, sedentary lifestyle, fasting, rapid weight loss, and use of certain cholesterol-lowering agents may pose risks to developing gallstones.

Though gallstones may be formed by bilirubin and other particles, they are typically made up of cholesterol. Presence of gallstones may not manifest any symptoms in the beginning, until it causes a blockage in the bile duct which tends to trap bile and cause accumulation that leads to irritation and pressure. A condition known as acute cholecystitis, which is the inflammation of the bladder, may also result from bile accumulation, causing a sharp, sudden pain known as Gallbladder Attack.

Gallbladder Attack Signs and Symptoms

A gallbladder attack may last from 15 minutes to 15 hours, which typically occurs at night and is triggered by ingestion of fatty food. These are the signs and symptoms that may indicate a gallbladder attack:

• Moderate to severe pain felt on the upper right side of the abdomen, under the ribs
• Pain radiating to the back and the right shoulder blade
• Nausea and vomiting
• Dizziness
• Burping, belching, and feeling of fullness
• Heartburn or indigestion
• Excruciating pain that may worsen when sitting up straight or with deep inhalation
• Fever and chills
• Bitter taste in the mouth after eating
• Clay-colored stool
• Yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

Gallbladder Attack Prevention

Diet plays a major role in preventing gallstone formation, and in turn, prevents gallbladder attacks. A low fat, low cholesterol, low sugar, high- fiber diet, and alcohol avoidance reduces risks of gallbladder attacks. In addition, high amounts of fruits, vegetables, and nuts in the diet, and drinking coffee everyday can significantly lower the risk of gallstone formation. Avoiding rapid weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight reduces the possibility of stone formation.

Gallbladder Attack Treatment

When gallbladder attack occurs, measures to alleviate the pain and discomfort include lying down immediately, with the left side of the body on top of the pillow, which aims to release pressure off the gallbladder. Leaning on a high- backed chair with arms raised up may also help relieve pain. Trying to vomit may relieve symptoms of nausea, and having a bowel movement can aid in removing wastes from the body which may have triggered the pain.

Attacks associated with fever, chills, and symptoms of jaundice require immediate medical attention. The person should be taken immediately to the hospital. The doctor may prescribe ibuprofen or paracetamol to provide analgesia. Liver/gallbladder flush may also be done to help remove waste from those organs and improve bile flow.

Coffee enemas are also used to open bile ducts and promote good flow. In extreme cases such as in presence of infection, severe blockage, and bladder perforation, a surgical procedure called cholecystectomy, or the removal of the gallbladder, may be the only option to relieve pain and avoid life threatening complications.

Eat for your gallbladder

The saying “You are what you eat” is actually more than a cliché. Since conception, our body responds accordingly to what our mothers consume, and after birth, diet already plays a key role in the development of our brain and vital organs as we age. Though often overlooked, food intake actually is one of the greatest factors that determine health and illness.

Diet contributes to the development of major organ problems such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. One of the organs that we don’t pay particular attention to is the gallbladder, and when it pertains to dietary relations, the gallbladder is no exception.

So what does this small, pear- shaped sac do? It serves as a reservoir for bile, a substance produced by the liver which is then secreted by the gallbladder to digest fat. The gallbladder is an important organ for digestion which isn’t always recognized until problems appear, such as gallstone formation. Women tend to develop gallstones more frequently than men, especially those who are obese and engaging in drastic weight loss.

Diet for Gallbladder Problems

In most individuals, gallstones do not present any symptoms, however, when problems are noted, it might be very late and surgery may be required to ease the pain caused by gallbladder problems. A procedure known as cholecystectomy or surgical removal of the gallbladder is often the last resort when significant complications are present.

During gallbladder attacks, these diet recommendations can help minimize the discomfort and even the frequency of the attacks:

  • Low fat and high fiber diet.
  • Include plenty of organic fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • Use spices, ginger, and turmeric in cooking your food as they may aid in digestion and contain antiseptic properties.
  • Eat green, leafy salads with small amounts of vinegar, olive oil, and flax oil.
  • Take your last meal several hours before going to bed.
  • Increase fluid intake.
  • Take fish oil capsules, which contain Omega 3 oil that helps prevent cholesterol build- up.

It is strongly believed that taking moderate amounts of alcohol, coffee, and peanuts can help reduce the risk of developing gallstones. Though further studies are being implemented, taking those substances in moderation can possess some benefits.

Though a low fat diet should be applied, it is not wise to eliminate all intake of fats. Fats, especially healthy fats, should still be taken in small amounts to avoid losing the necessary nutrients that our body needs. Absence of fat can actually cause stone formation, because the gallbladder won’t be triggered to secret bile, leading to bile crystallization.

Gallbladder Diet after Surgery

After gallbladder removal, the body will undergo certain digestion adjustments, because the gallbladder is no longer there to regulate bile secretion. It would be wise to start from a clear liquid diet immediately after surgery and introduce solid foods slowly. These are the recommended dietary actions following gallbladder surgery:

  • Avoid eating high- fat foods, such as fried foods, whole- milk dairy products, chocolates, pizza, gravies, oil, chicken and turkey skin, creamy soups, butter- based foods, and high- fat meats such as sausage, bologna, and bacon.Avoid spicy foods because they may cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Although high- fiber foods are recommended, introduce them slowly back into the diet, as they may form gas and cause cramping. These foods include whole- grain bread and cereals, seeds, nuts, legumes, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage.
  • Eat small, frequent meals to promote easier digestion.
  • Include lean protein meats, fruits, and vegetables in the diet.
  • Limit intake of dairy products and caffeinated beverages following surgery as they may be difficult to digest.
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