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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Raising Awareness of Gallstones

[Note: First and foremost, this is my journal. I try to make it interesting enough for others to read, but if it's boring then... oh well!]

I know what you're thinking - why would I need to raise awareness of something that's pretty gosh darn common? Well, real gallbladder attacks might be common, but gallbladder "annoyances" might be shrugged off as something else.

I was diagnosed with gallstones back in February of 2006, after a massive attack that felt like I was being repeatedly stabbed in my upper right abdomen (right under my breast). I was living with my parents at the time, and I awoke to a nasty feeling in what I thought was my stomach. (realizing later that no, your stomach is on the left. Your liver is on the right.) It felt like bloating or acid. I took some pepcid and tried to go back to bed. The pain increased; I took some Advil but the pain got so bad that I got scared and woke my parents. They took me to the ER, and pumped me full of I think dilaudid (which I forgot to tell them I was sensitive to [narcotics] and threw up within a couple hours into my ER stay.) They did an U/S and pronounced me with gallstones, gave me a prescription for Vicodin (and anti-nausea meds) and sent me home.

Courtesy of WebMD

Apparently, gallbladder surgery is pretty commonplace now. When I went to see my doctor and requested my first refill of the Vicodin (I believe my first script lasted until 2010), she asked me if I just wanted to remove it. I'm like, why? I've had maybe 2-3 attacks a year, and you want me to remove my organ? One reason I was so hesitant was because I'd worked with someone who'd had hers removed and she had to take some kind of medication for the rest of her life. Not to mention the possibility of chronic diarrhea due to the bile going straight to the intestines. I was not interested. I'm still not. It's just not worth it for the meager amount of attacks that I have - even with my sensitivity to narcotics.

However, I realized as I've lived with this condition for several years now, that massive gallbladder "attacks" aren't the only thing that I have to deal with. I also get a lot of just... annoying pains. Stabbing pains that aren't as bad as full-on attacks, or a feeling of bloated...ness. And the strange thing about gallbladder attacks is that it's kind of a referred pain, meaning sometimes it feels like the discomfort is coming from somewhere else. Every time I have an attack I always think it's my stomach first. And like a few days ago when I had one, I never managed to get the stabbing "omg kill me now" pain, but more of a dull ache that felt in the vicinity of my liver, and yet... I still thought it was my stomach for over an hour. I'm down to just taking 1/2 a Vicodin when they occur, and taking them has nothing to do with the pain itself. The gallbladder "freaks out" when a stone gets stuck in the opening to the duct, and that's what causes the pain. The Vicodin calms this reaction down (since it's a narcotic and works on the brain) and the stone gets unstuck by itself. This is why Advil and things don't help.

The pain of a gallbladder attack is no fun - it's been described as similar to a heart attack, and, at least in my case in 2006, the pain wasn't going to stop until I took something for it. So, my point is, if you happen to notice those symptoms and wondered what they could be, I might have just planted a seed. Hopefully I've helped someone, and told an interesting story about myself in the process :)

EDIT 10/2016: I finally saw a general surgeon about my gallbladder, and it just affirms my belief of not going through unnecessary surgery to remove the organ. He could not guarantee the outcome of how my body would react without my gallbladder, and it wasn't worth the risk. After 10 years, the attacks basically go away, but he did warn me that my gallbladder was a ticking time bomb, and I would get a stone stuck in a duct (a life threatening condition) eventually. It was not a matter of if, but when. That's okay. I work at a hospital and live 5 minutes away from one. I will take my chances!

1 comment:

  1. I understand the pain of a gallstone attack. I happened to have large gallstones before and would lose sleep because of the intense pain, which is usually triggered by eating too much fatty foods. It's all in the past now, as I had surgery to remove the stone, but I can still clearly remember how it would hurt and would not want to go through those experience again.

    Wayne Owens @ (Jacobs, M.D.)