Although fatty foods contribute to various health conditions, including high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, these are illnesses that develop over time. You don’t expect to get sick shortly after eating fat. If you do, you might have a gallbladder disease, and it is possible that you have gallstones.
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More than 25 million Americans develop gallstones, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Gallstones form in your gallbladder, a small organ near your stomach and pancreas that stores and then releases bile synthesized by your liver. Cholesterol from food you eat enters the liver, where it binds with compounds in bile. This bile passes into the gallbladder, which stores it until you eat foods with fat. The gallbladder secretes the bile into your stomach, allowing salt compounds in the bile to dissolve the dietary fat. While the bile is stored in your gallbladder, cholesterol and pigment from the bile can harden into stones. These stones may accumulate in your gallbladder or lodge in ducts, your pancreas or your lower intestines. When this occurs, areas surrounding the stones become infected and inflamed and you feel sick.
Half of people with gallstones never develop symptoms, according to Jackson/Siegelbaum Gastroenterology. For those who have symptoms, gallbladder disease most commonly presents with intermittent episodes of gnawing pain that center around the mid or upper right part of your abdomen. The pain, called biliary pain, can increase during the episode and can radiate into your upper back or behind your breastbone. You may vomit or feel nauseous. The pain can last one to several hours and can steadily increase over the episodes before it recedes. Nausea and vomiting can occur. Attacks reoccur, but usually not within the same week. If an attack persists beyond several hours, see a doctor since a more serious condition can develop. For example, stones can migrate into your pancreatic duct and into the pancreas, where they can cause inflammation and trigger pancreatitis.
Recurrent inflammation from gallstones can cause scarring and stiffness of the gallbladder, which creates a chronic condition called cholecystitis. Symptoms of chronic cholecystitis include gas, abdominal distress after meals and chronic diarrhea. During acute episodes of cholecystitis, gallstones lodge in the cystic duct, blocking the flow of bile. When this occurs, you can feel severe, steady, growing pain that persists for several hours or several days, fever, chills, sweating, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and abdominal bloating. Symptoms are often triggered by large, fatty meals, though the symptoms don’t occur until several hours after the meal.
If you have these symptoms, consult with your physician, who will probably refer you to a gastroenterologist. If attacks are infrequent, your physician might recommend dietary changes that include decreasing your intake of fatty foods. Foods will not eliminate gallstones or cure your malfunctioning gallbladder, but a low-fat diet can reduce the risk of developing new stones or triggering biliary pain. Avoid foods high in cholesterol, trans or saturated fats, such as eggs, margarine, lard, butter, whole milk products and fatty meats. Sweet, sugary and starchy foods might also increase the risk of developing gallstones. High fiber foods may reduce the risk of developing further gallstones. Fiber lowers bad cholesterol and scrubs your intestinal tract. Also, avoid yo-yo dieting, which increases your risk of developing more gallstones.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Anne Collins: Gallstones Diet & Weight
- Jackson/Siegelbaum Gastroenterology: Gallstones
- MayoClinic.com: Cholecystitis; Sept. 4, 2009
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats; February 2011
- National Institutes of Health: Gallstones
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease
- Weight-control Information Network: Dieting and Gallstones