Up to 15 percent of people will develop gall stones at some point during their lifetime, and four percent of those people will face complications.
Gall bladder disease can impact anyone, but there are several factors that have proven to be a good indicator of who is most at risk. Although these four characteristics do not always predict disease, they may foreshadow the need for a removal of the gall bladder, a procedure called a cholecystectomy.
The Four Risk Factors
- Gender: The chances of a female needing a cholecystectomy are two times greater than the chances of a male needing the surgery.
- Age: Studies have shown that the most common age range for a cholecystectomy is the 40s, but gall bladder disease can happen at any age.
- Fertility: Fertile age provides estrogen levels that cause higher than normal cholesterol excretions into bile, making gall stone formation more likely.
- Weight: : Obesity is the cause for many medical and surgical problems, and trouble with the gall bladder is definitely one of them. There is some concern that obesity has shifted the most common age even lower than the 40s because patients are becoming obese at a younger age than in prior years.
We continue to find more factors that relate to gall bladder disease, such as complexion. Epidemiologic studies have correlated gall bladder disease to those with lighter skin. Also, family history has been implicated as a cause for gall bladder disease, and those with family members who have had gall stones are more than twice as likely to have stones form. Indications for cholecystectomy are not based on these factors, but many patients have these factors in common in addition to the original four.
In a way, gall stone formation is an indication that the gall bladder no longer functions properly. Its main purpose is to concentrate and store bile, which is an emulsifying substance the liver makes and secretes into the gastrointestinal tract for digestion through the biliary tree. The gall bladder connects to the biliary tree and will collect the bile that’s being produced but not secreted when there is nothing to digest in the gastrointestinal tract. When there is food present, or following a meal, the biliary tree will empty into the intestine, along with the concentrated and stored bile in the gall bladder. The gall bladder will contract through this portion of digestion. Once the gall bladder has been removed, the biliary tree makes the proper adjustments to accommodate the bile production. Digestion will resume as before, but without the risk of complications from gall stones.
No medical treatment has proven to be as effective against gall stones as surgical removal of the gall bladder. Preserving an organ that doesn’t function properly will continue to cause problems. It should be removed to avoid more disastrous complications, such as a gall stone getting lodged in the biliary tree or occluding the pancreas from draining into the intestine.
If you identify with these factors and are concerned about gall bladder disease, talk to your doctor or call 1.844.BSWDOCS to schedule an appointment with a physician in your area.
About the author
Steven G. Leeds, MD, is a minimally invasive surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where he is the medical director of minimally invasive research and simulation. Dr. Leeds is fellowship-trained and specializes in minimally invasive surgery techniques. He treats several conditions of the esophagus and stomach.