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Ester Marsh: When do you know if you are dealing with gallbladder disease?

One of my dear friends had her gallbladder removed not too long ago. Every case is different and, in her case, she had a huge gallstone that had attached itself on the inside of her gallbladder. So her symptoms were only there when it moved in front of the duct.

My gallbladder was removed more than six years ago. I was having all kinds of gut issues, and we finally figured out that I had a bad gallbladder.

I was surprised I had problems because I don’t eat a lot of fat, and I exercise and try to be as healthy as possible. After the CAT scan showed I had a bad gallbladder, I found out that two of my aunts had their gallbladders taken out.

It was a frustrating and painful journey with trial and error. After my gallbladder was out, I felt much better, but later I started having other painful gut issues. I changed my diet and stopped eating almonds, and I have gone dairy-free, which made a world of difference. I wasn’t happy giving up two of my favorites — cheese and ice cream — but a happy gut is worth it.

Let’s look at what the gallbladder is and what it does:

The gallbladder is a sac located under the liver. It stores and concentrates bile that is produced in the liver; bile helps in the digestion of fats.

When the gallbladder does not work properly, you can be diagnosed with cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gallbladder, or cholelithiasis, which are gallstones.

I actually was dealing with both problems.

There are many people who have gallstones who never have a problem or symptoms. If the stones are large, they can block the duct that leads from the gallbladder. This causes pain and requires treatment, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have your gallbladder removed.

Sometimes with a change of diet (low in fat, high in fiber), avoiding refined foods (white bread, pasta and sugar), and increased exercise, the gallbladder might start functioning properly.

Acute cholecystitis occurs when the stones or sludge block the duct. Symptoms include:

• Pain in the upper right abdomen that is severe and constant, and it may last for days. Pain frequently increases when drawing a breath.

• The pain may radiate to the back or between the shoulder blades, behind the breastbone or even the left side.

• About a third of patients have fever and chills.

• Nausea and vomiting.

• Jaundice.

• Dark urine and/or a lighter stool.

• Rapid heartbeat and an abrupt blood pressure drop.

Chronic cholecystitis involves gallstones and mild inflammation. In these cases, the gallbladder may become scarred and stiff. Symptoms may include:

• Gas, nausea and abdominal discomfort after meals.

• Chronic diarrhea, which would be four to 10 bowel movements every day for at least three months.

A healthy gut is so important in everyone’s life. If you think you are dealing with gallbladder problems, talk to your doctor. He will be able to steer you in the right direction whether you need surgery or not, and maybe changes to your diet can improve your gallbladder.

I can tell you, gallbladder attacks are painful, and I don’t want anyone to suffer any longer.

Ester Marsh is health and fitness director of J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.

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