Help, I've Had a Gallstone Attack! Now What?
If you've had a gallstone attack, you may be surprised that your doctor has prescribed going home, drinking a lot of water and letting it pass.
Unless a diagnosed gallstone is very large, causing infection and/or creating a dangerous blockage, most patients are told to just rest and wait. That's much easier said than done, as any gallstone sufferer knows.
However, there are other things to do besides sit, drink (though that's very important -- we'll address it below) and wait for your gallstone to pass. Here are the best ways to make the process as comfortable as possible.
1. Reduce the inflammation.
When the body senses the presence of a gallstone in the urinary tract, it responds to it the way it responds to any bodily invader: inflammation. Unfortunately this compounds the pain as it makes the stone even more difficult to pass.
- Take ibuprofen. Acetominophen is great for pain, but doesn't reduce inflammation. Ibuprofen is an NSAID, so ask your doctor before taking it, particularly if you've had kidney or stomach issues in the past.
- Try anti-inflammatory herbs. Always do your research first -- some herbs are contraindicated with others and/or with certain medications or conditions. The best-known anti-inflammatory herbs for the gallbladder include ginger, turmeric and Oregon grape.
2. Calm the spasms.
As your body tries to push out the gallstone, you may experience spasms. The tightness and cramping makes the process more painful and may even delay it.
- Lie down and place a heating pad on the area. Be careful of the temperature of the pad so you don't burn your skin. Place the heating pad on low to medium, lie back and rest. Heat can help ease cramps.
- If you're going the herbal route, try rosemary, catnip, cramp bark or wild yam. These have been noted to calm spasms and cramping.
3. Drink lots of water.
Your best plan of attack is the most tried and true...and the least expensive: drink lots of water. Try for 2-3 gallons a day. Yes, that's a lot of water, but the more you drink, the faster things should move along. Don't drink to the point of making yourself feel sick/nauseated. Spread your intake of water over the entire day so your body is getting a continuous flush.
4. Attack the pain.
- If your doctor has approved NSAIDS for you (see above), go ahead and take them. If not, ask about non-NSAID pain relievers.
- Use a capsaicin-containing topical rub. The heating action will help with the pain. Don't go overboard -- capsaicin can burn the skin if used too liberally and frequently.
- For herbal options, try devil's claw, capsaicin extract taken internally via a supplement (this also helps with gas), borage seed oil and fennel tea (avoid this one if pregnant or nursing).
5. Prevent future attacks.
Science still isn't sure exactly what causes gallstones. But some methods have been shown to help reduce the frequency of attacks.
- Start with great nutrition. Give your body a healthy base with plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Reduce or eliminate saturated fats. Not all fats are bad -- olive oil, for instance, is great for the body, including the liver and gallbladder. It's saturated fats that you need to look out for. These have been associated with gallbladder issues in some patients.
- Drink plenty of water each day. Make sure you get plenty of water throughout the day to "keep things moving."
- Take preventive herbal supplements. Herbs that help detoxify and flush the liver and gallbladder include dandelion root, milk thistle seed extract, amla fruit and barberry extract.