Pregnancy may trigger gallstone formation in the gallbladder due to increases in estrogen and progesterone hormones. Rapid weight loss after pregnancy following the delivery of a baby may also play a role.
Gallstones can develop in the gallbladder when components in the bile become unbalanced.
The most obvious symptom is sudden-onset and severe abdominal pain. However, most people with gallstones do not experience any symptoms.
Symptoms can still occur in some people. Treatment may become necessary if symptoms are affecting a person’s daily life. People can manage milder symptoms well with pain relief medication and dietary changes. In more severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery.
Keep reading to learn more about gallstones after pregnancy.
The gallbladder is the body’s bile storage facility. It
The hormone increase due to pregnancy can
One reason is that the liver may release more cholesterol in the bile if a person loses weight
- preterm delivery, especially planned preterm delivery
- maternal disease
- maternal readmission to the hospital
- infant disease
However, having gallbladder surgery reduced the risk of the mother needing readmission to the hospital.
It is important to note that while almost
The pain usually lasts 1–5 hours but sometimes disappears within minutes. It starts in the middle of the abdomen, just under the right-hand ribs, and it can spread to the side of the body or the shoulder blade.
Some people also experience excessive sweating, nausea, or vomiting. Doctors refer to this as uncomplicated gallstone disease.
If the blockage lasts longer or the gallstones travel into nearby organs, a person may experience other symptoms. In these cases, doctors call the condition complicated gallstone disease. Symptoms include:
- being female, particularly if they have already had children
- being over 40 years old
- having a close family member with a history of gallstones
- having obesity or being overweight
- taking the antibiotic ceftriaxone (Rocephin)
People may also have an increased risk if they are living with the following conditions:
- cirrhosis, which leads to liver scarring due to long-term damage
- Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the digestive system
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), another chronic inflammatory condition of the gut
- obstetric cholestasis, a pregnancy-related liver problem that can increase bile acid production
- primary sclerosing cholangitis, a type of bile duct disease
A diagnosis of gallstones may require abdominal imaging. Ultrasounds
If a person does not have symptoms relating to their gallstones, they may not need treatment. However, a doctor will want to keep monitoring them in case any symptoms develop.
People at increased risk of complications may need treatment. For instance, if they have:
- portal hypertension, or high blood pressure in the liver, due to alcohol-related liver disease
- elevated calcium levels in the gallbladder, which increases a person’s risk of developing gallbladder cancer
Treatment types depend on how the pain affects a person’s daily life. For mild and infrequent pain, doctors may recommend pain relievers and dietary changes.
Doctors typically perform laparoscopic cholecystectomy, a minimally invasive surgery, in the second or early third trimester. For
Some people can also manage their gallstones by taking ursodeoxycholic acid tablets to dissolve them. However, this medication only works on small stones that do not contain calcium and may not always be an effective treatment method.
Doctors also do not recommend ursodeoxycholic acid during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Does it go away on its own?
While eating a healthy diet can improve a person’s general health and help with gallstone pain management, it cannot cure gallstones or eliminate all symptoms. However, the longer a person with gallstones goes without symptoms, the less likely their condition is to worsen.
Some people may try natural remedies to eliminate gallstones, but there is limited evidence to suggest they work.
For milder issues such as bloating and diarrhea, a person can manage their symptoms by noting and avoiding any food triggers, such as fatty or spicy foods.
Some medications can help
Weight loss (if a person is overweight) and
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends restricting foods with a high saturated fat content because cholesterol can play a role in gallstone formation. Foods that have a high-fat content include:
- butter, lard, and ghee
- cakes and cookies
- foods containing coconut or palm oil
- hard cheeses
- meat pies
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
Instead, a person should focus on incorporating the following into their diet:
- whole grains
- plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- nuts — such as peanuts or cashews — as some evidence suggests they can help reduce the risk of gallstones forming
If a person is overweight, they can aim to lose weight gradually by making certain dietary changes and getting regular exercise. However, it is important to note that losing weight too quickly can cause imbalances in the bile constituents, subsequently increasing the risk of gallstone formation.
If a person thinks they may have biliary colic after pregnancy, they should make an appointment with their doctor. It may be necessary to seek advice from a doctor immediately if someone has any of the following signs or symptoms:
- abdominal pain for longer than 8 hours
- a high temperature and chills
- abdominal pain so severe that they are unable to get into a position that relieves it
When the constituents of bile, including cholesterol, bilirubin, and bile salts, become unbalanced, gallstones can form in the gallbladder.
During pregnancy, increases in the hormones progesterone and estrogen can affect cholesterol levels and delay gallbladder emptying. Both actions may increase the likelihood of developing gallstones and symptoms. These symptoms, such as abdominal pain, may develop rapidly in some.
Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fat may help to prevent gallstones. Many pregnant people who get gallstones do not experience symptoms. However, any new symptoms during pregnancy or following delivery may require a talk with a healthcare professional.