Gallbladder Survival Guide: Preventing an ER Visit Over Thanksgiving

How to Avoid a Gallbladder Attack from All the Delicious Thanksgiving Food

23-Nov-2015 9:05 AM EST

Stony Brook Medicine

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Newswise — Most surgeons on-call during the Thanksgiving holiday and the subsequent holiday season are not surprised when a patient visits the ER complaining of upper right side, abdominal pain, and tenderness radiating through to the back.

There are also no surprises when an ultrasound shows a dilated gallbladder, possibly with a thickened wall, and gallstones ranging from the size of a pebble to the size of a marble or even an egg. At this point, surgery is the next logical step — a cholecystectomy, or gallbladder removal, which is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States.

During the long weekend of the Thanksgiving Holiday, surgeons from Stony Brook University Hospital usually see a spike in the number of emergency cholecystectomies that are performed.

Mark A. Talamini, MD, Chairman, Department of Surgery, Stony Brook University Hospital, shares some tips on how to prevent a visit to the hospital and keep you at home with your family for the holidays.

Eat smaller portions of high-fat, high-sugar foods: Thanksgiving celebrations are traditionally filled with buttery mashed potatoes, festively fatty appetizers, gooey desserts, and cheerfully spirited cocktails. Take it easy at the Thanksgiving dinner; not only will it spare you a possible trip to the hospital, but you will avoid packing on those extra end-of-the-year pounds. Researchers say many gallbladder symptoms stem from our Western diet, full of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats.

"If you're having symptoms from gallstones, it's because as your gallbladder tries to squeeze, some of the gallstones are blocking the outflow of bile that is stored in your gallbladder," Dr. Talamini says. "You're basically squeezing against a closed door, and that's where the pain comes from. When you eat fatty foods that makes the gallbladder squeeze more."

Stay hydrated: During the cold months, our indoor environment is often warm and dry, making us sweat more fluid than we might expect, therefore causing dehydration. Overdoing it on holiday cocktails can accentuate dehydration. Staying hydrated also keeps the blood flowing to all organs, including the gallbladder.

Eat more fruits and vegetables: Eating fruits and vegetables increases the ratio of fiber to nutrients, which improves overall digestion and decreases the proportion of fat. Fat will stimulate the gallbladder.

Get some exercise: Exercise increases overall blood flow and motility, the ability to move food through the gut. After your Thanksgiving meal, get out with the family for a walk!

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 20 million Americans have gallstones. The majority of those people are unaware of the disease, and show no symptoms.

The average American has one gallbladder attack in their life that typically lasts 1 to 4 hours. However, if the attack is severe or there is a second attack, it may put the person at risk for having future attacks. Three common treatments for gallstones are a "wait and see" approach, nonsurgical removal of the stones, or cholecystectomy.

A visit to the ER may be indicated if you have the following symptoms of a serious gallbladder attack:

Abdominal pain that lasts more than 5 hoursClay-colored stoolsFever or chillsNausea and vomitingYellowish color of the skin or of the whites of the eyes

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