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Sarah J. Lippert, MD

Pregnancy and Gallbladder Issues

May 27, 2019 | By Sarah Lippert, MD, FACS

Did you know that pregnancy can contribute to gallbladder problems? The increased hormone levels, especially progesterone, while you are pregnant can interfere with the normal function of your gallbladder, leading to gallstones and sometimes liver problems. This is partly because the hormone causes your muscle tissue to relax, slowing the release of bile from the gallbladder. Bile helps in digestion, but when gallstones block its release, pain and other symptoms can result.

If you notice pain on the right side of your abdomen, near your ribcage, or between your shoulder blades, especially after eating fatty foods, you may have gallstones. Pain from gallstones can be sharp or dull. It usually comes on suddenly but often subsides after several hours. You also may experience nausea, gas or diarrhea after eating. Symptoms can sometimes be confused with morning sickness, and women who also suffer from heartburn may think their discomfort is caused by acid reflux and indigestion.

Gallbladder problems should be taken seriously. They can lead to serious complications, including infection or gallbladder rupture. If you have abdominal pain lasting longer than five hours, seek immediate medical help, especially if the pain is combined with chills, fever, rapid heart rate, jaundice, sudden vomiting or clay-colored stools. These require immediate medical attention and can put you and your baby at risk.

Changing hormone levels or rapid weight loss after delivery can also lead to gallbladder problems because when you burn fat quickly, extra cholesterol accumulates in the bile, which can lead to gallstones. Make sure to get plenty of exercise and eat a diet high in fiber, fruits, vegetables and whole grains to reduce your risk of developing gallstones before, during or after pregnancy.
If you suspect you have gallbladder issues, especially if your symptoms persist, give us a call. Typically, we’ll start with an ultrasound to diagnose gallbladder conditions and try to control your symptoms with medications. Surgery is sometimes an option in certain first or second trimester patients with frequent symptoms, but we try to avoid surgery during the third trimester and instead consider surgery after your baby is born.