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Pregnancy a risk factor for gallstones

Published: Saturday, Jan. 8 2011 10:29 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Gallstones in pregnancy and symptoms that persist were among the dozens of calls during Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline.

Besides fielding dozens of telephone calls, surgeon Dr. Heidi Jackson and internist Dr. Celia Garner, both of LDS Hospital, also answered several questions on the Deseret News Facebook page, a hotline first.

Because pregnancy is a risk factor for gallstones, one caller who has a family history of the common disease wondered if she should have her gallbladder removed before becoming pregnant.

Jackson said she would not recommend surgery as a preventive measure to someone who'd never had gallstones. Many, many pregnant women never have gallstones, she said. For someone who has already had severe problems with gallstones during an earlier pregnancy, though, might want to have the gallbladder removed before becoming pregnant again.

While it's best to avoid surgery during pregnancy, she also noted that laparoscopic surgery is generally safe if it's absolutely needed. In that case, the best time is during the second trimester because the baby is quite well developed but not too big. Never, though, would either doctor recommend elective surgery in pregnancy if it weren't critical, they said.

One query involved a patient who'd had her gallbladder removed because of extreme pain. Leading up to that decision, an ultrasound had shown the gallbladder was fine, but a HIDA scan, where dye is injected then tracked to see how well the organ empties, found it was not working well. After the gallbladder was removed, it was sent to pathology, where it proved to be normal.

The doctors pointed out that pathology only shows that tissue is normal or abnormal, not whether an organ was functioning well.

Garner noted that it's sometimes a process to determine what's going on because so many of the symptoms of gallbladder problems are also symptoms of other things. The ultrasound is a good diagnostic tool because it shows gallstones, which are the most common problem, but even that can look normal and the gallbladder still may not be working right. In that case, the HIDA test is more definitive.

People can get along nicely without their gallbladder.

The Deseret News tackles a different hotline topic the second Saturday of each month.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com

TWITTER: loisco

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