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Risk factors for gallstone formation

Several factors increase the risk of gallstone formation in bile:

• Gender.

Women between the ages of 20 and 40 are twice as likely to get gallstones as compared to men. Oestrogen (the female sex hormone) increases the amount of cholesterol in the bile. Extra oestrogen from birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy may further increase bile’s cholesterol content. It also may slow gall bladder emptying, allowing bile to remain in gall bladder for longer periods of time.
• Pregnancy.

Pregnancy increases the risk for cholesterol gallstones because during pregnancy, bile contains more cholesterol, and the gall bladder does not contract normally.

• Birth control pills and hormone therapy. These treatments increase the levels of oestrogen. The effect of oestrogen is discussed above.

• Obesity. Being overweight tends to reduce the amount of bile salts in the bile. Obesity also slows the rate at which the gall bladder
empties. Even being moderately overweight can increase the risk of gallstones.

• Rapid weight loss. Rapid weight loss by whatever means causes cholesterol gallstone formation in up to 50 per cent of individuals. ‘Crash diets’ and fasting make the
body burn, or metabolize, fat very rapidly. The liver reacts by releasing extra cholesterol into the bile.

• Age. Although gallstones can occur in younger people, especially women. But most cases are diagnosed in people over age 40.

• Increased blood triglycerides.
Gallstones occur more frequently in individuals with elevated blood triglyceride levels.

• Taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Certain drugs that lower blood cholesterol may increase the amount of cholesterol passed out of the body in the bile.

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