Gallstones affect men and women alike, and if these stones become large enough and impede the healthy flow of bile out of the gallbladder, it can lead to the need for surgical removal. And while the condition affects both sexes, you may be surprised to learn that women are much more likely to be affected by gallstone formation. Below, we take a closer look at why gallstones tend to disproportionately affect women, and what you can do to lower your gallstone risk.
Gallstone Development In Women
Your diet plays an important role in the development or prevention of gallstones, and in general, women tend to be more conscious about their diets than men, which makes the fact that anywhere from 65%-75% of gallstone sufferers in the US are women all that more strange. So why are gallstones more likely to develop in women?
The main reason why women tend to be more affected by gallstones is due to the differences in hormone production between the sexes. There are two main hormones at play that factor into this difference, and they are estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that are more readily produced by women.
The presence of estrogen increases the amount of cholesterol in bile, and cholesterol is a key component in gallstone formation. In fact, many gallstones are actually solidified cholesterol, so if there is more of it in your bile, there’s a greater likelihood that it could clump together and form a stone that cannot be successfully passed. Progesteron is a hormone that is involved in the menstrual cycle, and it can slow down the process of emptying the bladder. If your gallbladder cannot release bile as quickly as normal, it’s possible that gallstones can get stuck in a bile duct instead of being passed.
Because of these two hormones, women under the age of 40 are roughly three times more likely to develop a gallstone than similar-aged men. By the age of 60, other factors have nearly evened the likelihood, but women still tend to have a higher risk of gallstone formation. Estrogen therapy and oral contraceptive pills have also been linked to a higher risk of gallstone formation.
Tips for Reducing Gallstone Risk
So regardless of sex, what can you do to reduce your risk of develop a gallstone? Since there’s not much to be done about hormone production, we have to look at other modifiable risk factors. Obesity and diabetes are two other health conditions that increase your risk of gallstone formation, so eat a healthy diet and work to lower your diabetes risk. High cholesterol diets also obviously put you at risk as this cholesterol needs to be safely removed from the body, so eat plenty of cholesterol-lowering foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and fatty fish.
If you’ve been bothered by pain in your upper right abdomen and believe you may be dealing with gallstones, it’s important to set up a consultation with a gallbladder specialist sooner rather than later. Bile impediments can cause significant health problems, so set up an appointment and learn about your treatment options if it turns out that there is a gallstone blockage. For more information, or to set up your first appointment, give Dr. Bhatti and the team at Bhatti GI Consultants a call today at (952) 368-3800.