Does pregnancy lead to gallstones?
While it may be very rare, developing gallstones post-pregnancy is a real risk.
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A gallbladder attack is no joke. The first time I suffered one, I legitimately thought I was having a heart attack and dying. The pain was unbearable and at first I thought it was a trapped wind. I writhed around in pain but after a few hours it eventually passed.

Sure enough it would happen on and off every few weeks and as one does in this modern age, I ran straight to Doctor Google who told me I had gallstones.

What happens during a gallstone attack

The most common symptom is pain in the right upper part of the abdomen and it may radiate to the right shoulder or back. The attacks may occur every few days, weeks, or months. The pain is usually severe, dull and constant, and can last from one to five hours.

That's a long time to be in unimaginable pain, some mothers have said that it's worse than childbirth and this c-section mama will take their word for it.

Other common symptoms of gallstones include the following:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • indigestion, belching and bloating
  • intolerance for fatty or greasy foods, and
  • jaundice

Yes, jaundice is not only for babies. I found this out the hard way when my gallbladder decided to get rid of one of my gallstones and block my common bile duct. My urine turned the colour of Dettol and my skin and eyes had a yellowish tinge. So off to the doctor I went because it could not be treated at home with pain pills and a hot water bottle anymore.

Cause of gallstones

So when my doctor diagnosed me with having gallstones I was shocked to say the least. Isn't gallstones an old people thing? At 32 I am certainly not an old person. But it turns out that there are a few factors that increase your risk of developing gallstones:

  • being female
  • being overweight,
  • having birthed more than one child
  • losing a lot of weight quickly or
  • taking certain medications such as birth control pills or cholesterol lowering drugs.

Now I ticked 3 out of the 5 points above there. I am female. I was overweight before pregnancy. And I lost a lot of weight very quickly after giving birth because of breastfeeding and generally just not having the time to eat with a small baby taking up all my time.

So does that mean that pregnant women are more susceptible to developing gallstones? According to OBGYN, Dr Elmarie Basson, the answer is no. Only a very small percentage of women, 0.05-0.33% develop gallstones because of pregnancy. 

She explains that during pregnancy a woman's hormones increases so this causes a few things to happen:

  • An increase in oestrogen causes increase in cholesterol secretion.
  • An increase in progesterone causes decrease bile acid secretion and that leads to bile that’s saturated with cholesterol.
  • Progesterone also leads to decreased gallbladder emptying which then promotes stone formation.

All of these changes normalises 1-2 months after giving birth. However the risk can increase if you lose the baby weight too quickly before your body has a chance to return to it's pre-pregnancy state. 

Have you suffered from gallstones? Send us your stories to chatback@parent24.com and we could publish them. 

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