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Gall Stones in Pregnancy

What do you do about gall stones in pregnancy?

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Updated August 22, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Gall stones in pregnancy are relatively common. About 5-8% of women will experience either sludge or gall stones in pregnancy. While it is more common to medically manage gall stones in pregnancy, it is the second most common cause of surgery in pregnancy that isn’t pregnancy related. About 1 in 1,600 women will have their gall bladder taken out due to gall stones in pregnancy. Gall stones are more common in women, potentially due to the increased estrogen. It is also more common in those who are obese and in those who gain or lose weight rapidly and in those who are not pregnant.

Symptoms of Gall Stones:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden sharp pain in the upper right quadrant (may move depending on stage of pregnancy)
  • Potentially fever

It is important to note that not all women will experience symptoms with their gall stones in pregnancy. To figure out if your symptoms mean that you have gall stones in pregnancy, you may have some tests done. Blood work may not be as useful in pregnancy due to normal pregnancy changes. Though ultrasound can be used to detect many of the cases of gall stones in pregnancy.

In looking at your symptoms and test, your practitioner can recommend that you either have surgery or wait the gall bladder attack out. What can you do other than surgery for gall stones in pregnancy? You can try to alter your diet. This can include the recommendation to lower your intake of fried and fatty foods. You may also be given medications for the pain. Some practitioners prefer to go ahead and operate because of the increased risk of a relapse, which can be worse.

First Trimester
Surgery is generally not recommended in the first trimester except for extreme cases. This is because the risk of miscarriage is higher. There is also a greater risk of birth defects from exposing your baby to the medications needed to perform surgery. If possible, surgery will be delayed until you have moved into the second trimester or until after the pregnancy.

Second Trimester
Surgery is safest in the second trimester. It is also the easiest time to do the procedure with a laparoscopy as opposed to an open incision, which is larger and requires a longer healing time.

Third Trimester
You may be more likely to be encouraged to try to wait it out rather than have surgery. The growing uterus makes it more difficult to perform surgery using the laparoscopic technique. It is also more likely that you could experience preterm labor in the third trimester. It may also be recommended that you have your gall bladder removed in the postpartum period.

Sources:
Gallstones. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House. NIH Publication No. 07–2897. July 2007.

Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Fifth Edition.

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