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L.A.’s city attorney has gallstones; someday, you could too

January 5, 2010 |  2:43 pm

Gallstones Your gallbladder isn't quite as vital a contributor to your body as, say, your lungs or heart. 

But as Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich found out from the "excruciating" pain that brought on a post-Thanksgiving, six-day hospital stay, problems with your gallbladder can bring a world of hurt. Today, Maeve Reston reports that two gallstones were to blame for Trutanich's distress.

The tiny sac stores bile (which is actually generated by the liver), concentrating and then secreting it to break down fats and dissolve cholesterol. Gallstones are formed when an excess of cholesterol or bilirubin collect and form crystalline deposits in the gallbladder. They come as small as a salt grain or as large as a walnut, and they cause extreme, sharp, overwhelming pain (and possibly nausea and vomiting).

It’s not clear whether consuming too much cholesterol directly affects gallstone formation, but a high cholesterol diet, along with a host of other factors (low-fiber diet, obesity, diabetes, American Indian ancestry), are thought to contribute to the risk.

Trutanich isn't alone. Up to 20 million Americans have gallstones, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

There are a number of treatment options, including drugs, endoscopy and using ultrasound treatment to break up the rocks.

Trutanich, however, plans on that near-foolproof treatment -- surgical removal of the gallbladder. "[T]hen I should be as good as new," he concluded in The Times article. 

He’s right, says the institute. For all the trouble it causes, “the gallbladder is an organ people can live without. Your liver produces enough bile to digest a normal diet.”

For more information on the gallbladder's function and gallstone warning signs, here's a fact sheet from the NIDDK.

-- Amina Khan

Photo credit: P. Birn / Custom Medical stock photo