Let me take you back to October 21, 2011. It was a usual Friday afternoon, and I and three officemates just came back from having lunch in a chicken restaurant. Suddenly, I felt intense pain in the left side of my stomach. Imagine yourself not being able to stand up straight because your stomach aches so much. I spent the rest of that work day rushing to the restroom to vomit.
As I detailed in a blog post last year, it was eventually revealed through an ultrasound that I have gallstones (or cholelithiasis). Looking back now, it remains unclear to me how exactly I had those. I first experienced those flash stomach pains in 2007, and because of it, I assume I had gallstones since I was 17. What disturbed me however is that I don’t have the risk factors usually associated with people with this condition, which include the following:
*Age 40 and up
*Experienced rapid weight loss
*People with diabetes
*People with high-fat and low-fiber diet
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there are two types of gallstones – cholesterol stones and pigment stones. Cholesterol stones are usually yellow-green and are made primarily of hardened cholesterol, and this accounts for about 80 percent of gallstones. Pigment stones, on the other hand, are small, dark stones made of bilirubin.
A laboratory test showed that I have high cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that cholesterol levels can be inherited, which means that even an average consumption of fatty foods can be dangerous. I had gallstones-induced stomach pains after eating foods like fried chicken, pizza, and even kangkong. The gallbladder contracts harder to produce the bile necessary to digest these foods. Gallstones hinder the flow of bile as it moves from the gallbladder to the small intestines through the bile ducts. These stones effectively renders the gallbladder useless.
“Bile trapped in these ducts can cause inflammation in the gallbladder, the ducts, or in rare cases, the liver,” the US health department added. According to this website, some people do not even know they have gallstones. This is not the case with me since my condition is obviously symptomatic. To alleviate the pain, I took painkillers (Celexocib). My doctors also advised me to avoid eating fatty foods.
However, the long-lasting solution to my problem is to have the gallbladder surgically removed. Since I’m a stone former (a person prone to having gallstones and kidney stones), then it means that I am likely to develop more gallstones in the future unless I have that surgery. The US health department continues: “Left untreated, the condition can be fatal. Warning signs of a serious problem are fever, jaundice, and persistent pain.”
What are the immediate impacts on me of that chain of events exactly a year ago? As I related in a blog, the revelation made me cry a lot out of uncertainty at first. After I successfully sought a second opinion from an internal medicine specialist, my anxiety loosened up. After all, I was told that my situation isn’t as hopeless as initially thought. Nevertheless, the risk posed to me by my high cholesterol levels cannot be underestimated.
I initially thought that my condition may affect my graduate studies. It didn’t. However, since this episode happened during the last week of the semester, I wasn’t able to focus anymore in accomplishing the final paper for one class given all the distractions. In fact, the night before the deadline, I sought a second opinion from another doctor. I want to thank Dr. Lou de Leon-Bolinao for being considerate during that challenging time. I eventually decided to go for an operation, and that’s one experience I will have to tell more about in a future post.
PS: If you’re experiencing sudden stomach pains in the left quadrant after eating hard-to-digest foods, ask your doctor for a recommendation for you to undergo an ultrasound. The sooner you know the real cause of the pains, the better.