We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Gallbladder Testing and Treatment

This is third part of a three-part series on gallbladder problems.

You have been told you may have gallbladder problems, after explaining your symptoms of nausea, stomach pain (especially after eating), diarrhea, and lack of energy. But since gallbladder problems can closely resemble other abdominal problems, it's prudent to determine exactly what is going on.

One of my concerns about the trend I'm seeing is that there isn't enough education and discussion about causes and solution alternatives. Very smart people stumble around, confused too much of the time about what to do. The type of confusion I'm seeing is tests whose purpose weren't adequately explained, or what other tests were available and why they might be valuable.

When I asked my FaceBook friends what their experiences were with their cholecystectomy I learned that everyone had different experiences. Sometimes the symptoms weren't alleviated by the surgery to remove their gallbladders, sometimes they were. Sometimes they could continue eating just what they had before their gallbladder "got sick", and sometimes they had to dramatically change their diets, or suffer uncomfortable consequences. None of them felt they had gotten explanations about what was going on or what to expect, nor about what to do to take care of themselves in the future.

My suggestions include learning as much about all the possible tests you can get to find out exactly what is wrong, and then to learn about the various treatments so you can make the best informed decision possible.

Here's a quick list of tests you may consider. Take this list and do more research so you have a deeper understanding of what's being tested and why.

  • CBC - complete blood count
  • Various additional blood tests, checking electrolytes and kidneys
  • LFT - liver function test
  • check the blood's amylase and lipase levels
  • ultrasound
  • abdominal x-ray, looking for things like gallstones
  • CT - computer tomography, looking at the abdominal organs
  • HIDA scan, or choloscintography - radioactive test with Hydroxy IminoDiacetic Acid to test gallbladder function
  • OCG - oral cholecystogram to diagnose gallstones
  • IVC - intravenous cholangiogram
  • MRI (though with the gallbladder it's called magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography, or MRCP) for detailed gallbladder pictures
  • ERCP - endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography to inject dyes into the ducts of the gallbladder, liver and pancreas so they show up on x-rays
  • Endoscopic ultrasonography for a closer look at the organs

As I've talked with gallbladder-impaired friends on the phone and on FaceBook, one point I've noticed is that everyone reacts to their gallbladder situation and surgery differently. One thought for that is perhaps their doctors haven't researched the problem thoroughly enough and didn't get to the source of the problem. Perhaps some surgeries haven't been necessary so the problem still exists afterward. MedicineNet.com agrees with my theory, adding that gallstones weren't the problem, gallstones were left in the ducts, or there were bile duct problems in addition to the gallstones. Detailed examination will go a long way to helping you take the right action and experience relief.

Here's a quick list of what are your treatment options are. You need several:

  • proper diet
  • cholesystectomy - surgical removal of the gallbladder
  • sphincerotomy - extract the gallstones from the bile ducts, before or after gallbladder removal
  • ESWL - extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy
  • drugs to dissolve gallstones

What are the risks of the various treatment options? Eating a proper diet will make you healthier on many levels, regardless of what else you do. But the other options do have possible ramifications.

  • From the Anesthesia:
    • Blood clots, in the legs or lungs
    • Breathing problems
    • Drug reactions
    • Heart problems
    • Pneumonia

  • From the Surgery:
    • Bile duct damage
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Pancreatitis
    • Small intestine damage

I haven't answered the question about whether diets of highly processed foods contribute to gallbladder problems, or if gallbladder removal is a trend. And I don't think it's are a fad, though they clearly are common. My conclusion? Eat more healthfully. It doesn't hurt to err on the side of caution when it comes to diet and health. At the worst, you'll be healthier to recover from your cholecystectomy.

After my study of this medical situation I don't feel quite as anxious about Rock's case. While he eats a low-fat diet already, there are things he could do to make his more "gallbladder-friendly". But, at his age, is it worth removing some of your favorite foods from his diet? I'm guessing he's thinking it's probably not what he wants to do. What are you going to do about your diet to help keep your gallbladder healthy?

Do we really know enough about the gallbladder's functions, or interacts with other parts of the body, to be removing it so readily? As with tonsils and appendix, should we doing more research? Are we better off finding out how to keep gallbladders healthy instead of just taking them out when diseased, or when we think they are diseased?

This is Part 3 of the series. You can go back easily if you missed the first two sections.
Part 1 of the series: Gallbladder Problems?
Part 2 of the series: Gallbladder Diet


Just to be fair, it should be noted that eating more healthfully does have "side effects" as well, such as usually requiring more effort to find and prepare food and (depending on your environment) possibly higher cost than eating more processed food. Just because the costs aren't to one's health directly does not mean that they should be discounted.

I have absolutely no problem with suggestions to eat a better diet, but the obstacles to a diet change are rarely all internal, and sometimes those who have already gotten on the bandwagon can come across as unsympathetic to the difficulties being experienced by those who would like to eat better, but are having difficulty overcoming external obstacles between them and that goal. For example, I know quite a few people who are on fixed incomes and have severely limited energy levels due to severe chronic illness. Most of them will bridle immediately when diet is brought up as a way to improve their situation, not because they believe it cannot help, but because the increased cost in time, money, and effort needed to switch from processed foods to fresh-ingredient cooking is simply not within their capabilities, and they feel as if they are being blamed for their illness because they are not doing something as "simple" as improving their diets to improve their health.

I don't think you were trying to come across that way, just waving the warning flag. :-) I would love it if you ran into a situation where you could share some low-expenditure healthy eating tips for those of us who aren't as far along in greening, though.

Quinn at September 3, 2010 8:50 PM

Quinn, boy are we coming from different directions on this one! If a person doesn't have time to take care of their health by eating well, or at least better, then I guess my hard stance is they deserve what they get.

If someone has a grocery store, unless it's a 7/11 or some other type of fast, convenience store, then it will have healthy food, just as it has processed, fast foods. So, finding healthy food is no more trouble than finding unhealthy food. If you are talking just organic and locally grown, yes, that can be a bit harder to find in some areas. But fresh and frozen vegetables and meats are quite easy to find in grocery stores. And that's the kind of food I'm mostly talking about here.

I think most bridling done by humans when different ways of doing things are suggested is because they are scared and frustrated. It's so easy to believe changing one's behavior will change one's results. You've heard that if you keep doing the same old thing you'll keep getting the same old results. That's true in just about everything in life. To make improvements you have to find different ways of doing that thing.

I'm not going to try to convert people who are closed to making improvements in their health through diet. When people are ready for something better articles like this will be there for them, and then they'll act.

Change isn't easy, even when you want to change. And if you don't want to change it's nearly impossible to change. I know several people who have gallbladder problems, and know what to do to improve the problem, but don't want to give up their eating patterns. They generally know they will continue feeling bad, but it's worth it to them. Ok, that's fair.

But if one person reading this article realizes they can feel better by following a few simple diet changes, and starts doing it, then I think I've done my job.

The irony in your argument is that people spend far more on health care and a bad diet than they would on a healthy diet. I'm not saying you'll never get sick if you eat well, or that a healthy diet will cure all that ails you. But a healthy diet sure goes a long way in making you healthier, stronger, more able to fight what ails you.

It may take a little longer to cook fresh food and items from scratch than it does from a box, but that time investment can be a life saver. I suspect we were a healthier society 50 years ago when we did prepare most all food from fresh sources than we are today.

I'm by no means a purist in my eating habits, but I'm getting better. And I'm so rarely sick I can't remember the last time I was sick. I attribute that in part to eating whole, fresh foods more than processed foods.

When I know what you eat I bet I can suggest less expensive, healthy eating tips. You willing to try something new?

Thanks for the challenge and the warning flag, Quinn. I hope you are up for this challenge, and others I'll be throwing out there. :~)


Though I do remember feeling really "icky" one New Years Day. I finally tied it to the green bean casserole I'd eaten the night before that was sweetened with Splenda brown sugar (I discovered that days later).

Kit Cassingham at September 4, 2010 11:50 AM
Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)

Please wait. Your comment is being processed ...