When I was expecting the boys I had quite a few complications towards the end of the pregnancy. One of them was having the liver disorder Obstetric Cholestasis that went undiagnosed for weeks.
Usually you get itching on your hands and feet with this; I didn’t. I just had the most itchy belly you can ever imagine. It felt like I had ants crawling under my skin and it hurt more to ignore the itches than it did to scratch myself red raw (sometimes til I would draw blood). The only way I could sleep was by slathering myself in calamine lotion from the fridge and wearing gloves, and even then it was impossible. I was told by registrars and midwives alike over a period of probably six weeks that it was normal to itch like this, as your skin is so stretched. I knew it wasn’t normal but couldn’t get anybody to listen.
When I got diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at around 37 weeks I was admitted to hospital and they did a blood test which showed I also had OC. As the hospital was so busy I was left for another couple of weeks before they could fit me in for a planned C-section. In the meantime I was given tablets occasionally (they got the dosage wrong most of the time and rarely seemed to have the right medicine in stock so I often missed doses), and they didn’t have any cream in stock in the hospital pharmacy that would help so I was more or less left to itch myself silly until 38 + 5. Anyway, long story short, this is probably what contributed to me now having a gallbladder packed full of gallstones.
I wanted to do a post about this as I realised that was what was wrong with me was after stumbling upon a blog post about the subject in January. Hopefully this might be of use to somebody out there looking for answers.
My first gallbladder attack was around a year ago. I’d had a take away pizza and around 11pm I was woken by pains in my chest and under my ribs that kept getting worse. I took a painkiller and tried to ignore it. A few minutes later I was being violently sick and the pain was radiating from my stomach under my ribs, to my heart and around my back and shoulders. I was bent double in agony as the waves of pain kept coming and getting more intense. If we hadn’t got the boys I would have made Husband drive me to A & E, but because the boys were in bed I decided to wait a while and see if it got any worse. I kept being sick for a solid hour, eventually just bringing up bile acid which hurt my throat, but the feeling of trying to be sick seemed to ease the pain very slightly. Eventually I was able to lay down with a hot water bottle, exhausted. Husband told me it was food poisoning. I wasn’t sure but had no idea what else could have cause it.
I didn’t suffer again until last Sept, when I had a similar attack. This time I thought it couldn’t be food poisoning again, but I let it slide. In November I had another smaller attack during an afternoon, but I didn’t have time to go to the GP as I was so busy with Christmas planning and parties so I put it off, saying I’d go if it happened again. Just before we went away to stay with family for Christmas I had another attack, then on Christmas Eve I had another attack while staying with my parents after going out for a meal. They heard the agony I was on as I rolled around on the bathroom floor crying, and they were really worried. I made a pact that as soon as I was home I’d book a Drs appointment. Unfortunately for me I had one more attack before I got home. We arrived back in time for New Year and I decided to buy a pregnancy test kit; we’d just started trying for a baby and already I was late. It was positive. On the first Monday of 2012 I called the Drs to book my appointment.
Husband was worried they’d try to fob my off by saying the pains were related to my pregnancy (even though I’d only just got pregnant and had been having the attacks for some time) so I hit the internet and did some research. Here I found that I had almost certainly got a gallbladder problem as my attacks sounded exactly like a biliary colic attack.
I described my pain to my GP and he agreed it sounded like a gallbladder problem. I was referred for an ultrasound to diagnose it. They decided to wait until I was seven weeks pregnancy so that we could see the baby at the same time. When the day came, the scan showed a healthy heartbeat and a gallbladder that was neatly packed with lots of small stones.
It’s taken almost three months but I saw a surgeon last week, after pushing my GP who otherwise was just going to refer me to an Obstrician at 20 weeks (who I would have seen anyway due to my earlier pregnancy complications). I knew I wouldn’t be having surgery during the pregnancy but really wanted to speak to somebody about it who knew what they were talking about and get some more detailed advice about how to manage the attacks and my diet.
Having spent weeks eating a low fat, no red meat, spice free, dairy free diet, as recommended by the many gallbladder websites, it was lovely to speak to a real person. The surgeon took a lot of time to answer my questions and told me that I don’t need to be so strict. I can eat fat but just in moderation. I don’t need to avoid red meat, just be aware that meat such as lamb is quite fatty and limit my intake accordingly. I can also have the odd treat, so long as I don’t overdo it. Dairy is fine in moderation, and spices are ok too – it’s just that I shouldn’t have a high fat curry as that is likely to set it off. I’ll be getting my gallbladder removed six weeks after having my baby, assuming my attacks don’t start up again. Thankfully, since I’ve been eating low fat, and since I’ve cut out take aways, I haven’t had an attack in weeks (which is a good thing as my last attack at around 8 weeks pregnant was the most severe yet – it lasted over three hours and felt like it would never end).
I just wanted to clear up some misunderstandings that are present on the internet about the diet you need to follow. Since seeing the surgeon I’ve now had a cream cake as a treat one day, and another day I had a McDonald’s (but just chose a soft drink rather than a milkshake as I thought that was going too far!) I’m still avoiding eggs as they seemed to set it off the last time I had an attack, and I’m not having take away pizza or curry anymore, but at least I’ve got something to look forward to after having my gallbladder removed!
I do wish I’d been to my GP sooner with it. I could have had it removed before getting pregnant and now wouldn’t be in this pickle. I also wish I’d known that having OC can result in gallbladder problems as this was never mentioned to me (I only discovered this by doing my own research online). If I’d been warned about it I’d have been more likely to head straight to the Drs rather than assuming it was food poisoning.
Should my attacks flare up again (as pregnancy can make them worse), or should a stone move and block a duct, then there is a chance I’ll need surgery during my pregnancy which comes with the risk of bringing my baby on prematurely. So I’m being careful with what I eat, without depriving myself too much of the foods I’m craving. Being pregnant means the only painkiller I can take is paracetamol and for this level of agony it’s barely worth it (even if I could keep it down). But I’ll put up with it and hope I can get through the next 24 weeks without any more attacks. And then I’ll have the fun task of trying to look after a newborn (possibly after another C-section, depending on the recommendations of my consultant following my previous list of complications) and going in for another operation!
So much for this singleton pregnancy being plain sailing! It would be great to hear from anyone else who had gallstones while pregnant and how you coped with it.
It’s also just worth mentioning that lots of people have gallstones and they may never cause you any pain at all. Having OC doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with gallstone attacks – I was just lucky I guess!!