Have you ever been blindsided by a health scare?
Not only that, have you ever been left with a nagging gut feeling that something isn’t right with the answers you are given?
I’ve been there!
I had a scare six months ago with my health, and I want to share it with you along with the hope that when you have the right tools, you can assist your body in getting better! Your body wants to get better, you just need to give it what it needs.
That’s Just the Way it is, Or is it?
The conventional way many of us were raised is if you get sick, you go to the doctor. A lot of tests, medication, and surgery are the most common ways we are told to deal with our health issues. Pretty simple. Black and white if you will.
But the truth is, your health isn’t black and white. There are several shades of grey and even vibrant colours in between. You can have the ability to feel so much better by listening to your body and seeking out answers to get the help you need!
How do I Know?
Well, it helps that I am a nutritionist and have that knowledge in my intellectual bank. But it took a significant step on my part to get answers when I wasn’t satisfied with the ones I was given. (see my previous post on why I became a nutritionist).
Medical doctors know the body well, but they are taught to diagnose and treat existing problems. This is very necessary since the natural way won't always help. But here is my story of how advocating for my health directly impacted and strengthened my beliefs in living a natural lifestyle!
My Health Scare Story
Let’s head back to last May; I was sitting at this very computer doing some work. Suddenly, I get this burning pain in my chest, that radiates to my back. It was SO intense and I didn’t know what was happening!
To give you an idea of my pain tolerance I’ve had two children without painkillers or epidurals. I can confidently say that this pain was comparable to labour, which is one of the worst pains (and wonderful pain as it brought me my two amazing kids) that I’ve ever experienced. In the back of my mind I knew I was healthy, so I wasn’t suspecting heart attack or anything to do with my heart, but I was wondering what could cause such pain.
The pain was debilitating; it hurt to move. I tried changing positions and I felt the best laying down. I ended up laying down for two hours in my bed. I couldn’t even turn off the lights it hurt so bad. I laid there until it didn't hurt so much to move; it was the only thing to ease the pain. When the pain became tolerable I got up once more to shut everything off in the house and called it a night and went to bed.
I woke up in the morning, and my whole chest was sore like I did strenuous exercise and overexerted myself. It felt like the muscles in my upper chest just spasmed repeatedly overnight, such a weird feeling. I was perplexed as to what could have caused this much pain, so I decided I better get checked out. My mom came over to watch the kids, and I headed to the Emergency Room.
I spent the entire day at the hospital (we all know you’re usually in emergency for 5 hours minimum unless you’re severely bleeding or have chest pain). I didn’t think it was dangerous, so didn’t come with backup. I thought they would look me over say I was fine and send me home. My mom was with my kids, and I was updating my husband while he was at work.
Here’s how it went:
- They did an ECG to check my heart; it was fine.
- They wanted to do an X-Ray because it is standard procedure for chest pain, but I opted out. I knew my heart was alright and didn’t think it was necessary.
- They also did a blood panel. There was an issue with the blood machine, so it ended up taking a while for the results.
When the blood work came in, I was sitting alone on the hospital bed. The doctor had just come on shift, and came into the room in which I was waiting in. So this was my first time meeting this doctor.
And what I heard next, was entirely unexpected!
All my blood work was regular except my liver enzymes which were severely elevated (1400 and they should be in the 50s).
WHAT?!?! HOW COULD THIS BE POSSIBLE???
Now, your liver is important! You kind of need it to survive. So I was worried, and I started to ask my traditional million and one questions as to what could cause this.
The ER doctor started to tell me that I might have hepatitis or be in liver failure and might need a transplant.
Oh, they said it could also be gallstones, but when you hear liver failure and might need a transplant you don’t listen to gallstones!!! Your mind has a tendency to go to the worst case scenario.
Note: Your liver enzymes get elevated when your liver has been injured, inflamed or damaged. However, is resilient and should bounce back after finding out what caused the elevation in enzymes.
I am a very intelligent person, and I know a lot about the body but honestly at this point, I was scared. After you have kids, I find you get scared easier about your health. You have these tiny beings that need you to take care of them, so you take care of yourself better and do right by them. I was scared because I had no idea what was happening. I had two kids at home and a husband that needs me, I was alone, and the doctor just told me that I might need a liver transplant. The confusing thing after getting this news was that I was a tiny bit sore still, but I felt fine.
How is this possible that I could be in liver failure and not feel sick or in any major pain? None of this made sense to me.
I eat well… I take care of myself… I don’t drink… I don’t eat a lot of sugar…. I don’t even take Tylenol!
How could this be possible?
Trusting My Gut
After more testing and an ultrasound, I, in fact, had gallstones. Phew! One decided to leave my gallbladder and make an exit. Luckily it made a successful exit. The blockage elevated my liver enzymes making them soar into the 1400s. (The levels were back to normal within a few weeks, it takes a while for them to go back down).
The ER doctor gave me my results; my gallbladder was apparently full with gallstones that were 6-12 mm in size. The only answer was surgery, and he referred me to a surgeon and sent me home.
This was all so much to take in for one day! Chest pain, liver failure, hepatitis, possible transplant to gallstones….
This doctor made me think my whole gallbladder was filled with these stones; something was unsettling. It didn’t feel right, and I decided to take action!
Something inside of me told me to ask for the ultrasound. I requested a copy to bring to my naturopath. Out of curiosity, I looked at it myself, and there was a radiologist report with pictures. I was intrigued by the ultrasound.
Looking at my gallbladder, there were about 13 stones. Hmmm. I thought it was full? It was just a layer on the bottom of my gallbladder.
Then I looked at the radiologist report, and it said the stones were 5mm or less….huh? the ER doctor said they were 6-12mm and they are less than half that size?
Quite a difference from what the ER doctor said!
I later found out that the radiologist doesn’t check the scans until after the ER doctor looks at them. The ER doctors look at them as they are diagnosing them and do not have time to sit there an analyze the scans. They are also not versed as well on the images as a radiologist would be. Lesson learned, always ask for your bloodwork, X-Ray images, ultrasound images and any other tests you might have.
The doctor spent less than five minutes with me! One attack, one ultrasound and I had to have surgery? This doctor didn’t know anything about me, my family history, my lifestyle, my routine, any risk factors, and they couldn’t fully tell me what forms the stones.
Had I not taken the initiative when this situation didn’t feel right, I wouldn’t have made the next steps to advocate for my health.
My Health, My Decision
The surgeon’s office called me the next day to set up an appointment. I met with the surgeon. He was kind enough and seemed very competent and knowledgeable about gallbladders. He told me my only option was surgery.
After knowing what I know now, I think I also had a gallbladder attack 3.5 years ago that they deemed as heartburn and it wasn’t diagnosed. I mentioned this to the surgeon. He said it is “rare” to go that long between attacks, but I believe my healthy living and diet controlled my gallstones and prevented attacks.
Ideally, I wanted someone to remove the stones and leave the gallbladder, which of course, they don’t do. The stones could escape the gallbladder to your abdomen, and you will end up with major surgery to fish out a stone. Also, it is hard for them to stitch up the gallbladder. Fair enough so, not an option.
There is also medication out there designed to dissolve the gallstones, but they take a while, up your bile production/pH and the doctor stated that the stones will just come back. This medication also disrupts your bile secretion and could have other side effects.
Why would you want to do that?
I didn’t like the idea of surgery, so I opted to go to another surgeon. OK, I was stubborn, but I didn’t like his answer.
The second surgeon’s answer: I would need surgery. Darn!
One thing that they said to me that stuck with me, and I admire them for this is:
“If you are unsure, do nothing.”
Gallstones are fine if they stay put, but when they start to travel, problems arise. They cause blockages that can lead to pancreatitis! I was worried about putting myself at risk, and I felt like a ticking time bomb. He told me I am not putting myself at risk by waiting rather than having surgery. He said they have seen people in ICU from a gallstone attack and from gallbladder surgery. The surgeon also said that there is a 50% chance of me having another attack in 6 months. I’ve never had surgery before or any major health problems, so I had a decision to make.
I was not ready to commit to surgery.
There had to be a way to do something other than surgery about these gallstones, and I was determined to find it!
My “Why” for Not Having Surgery
Why couldn’t I bite the bullet and go for surgery? To me it didn’t make sense, I’ve had 2 possible attacks in 3.5 years, why should I have surgery? I’ve known people that have had 3-4 attacks a week, or a solid attack for 2 weeks. If that was happening to me, sure, cut it out as those attacks are painful.
If a person has asymptomatic gallstones - meaning they are there and haven’t had an attack - the doctors don’t state surgery is needed. They leave them until they become a problem, as the risks of surgery don’t outweigh the problem of having the stones. I was somewhere in the middle. I’ve had a few attacks, but I wasn’t having frequent attacks so I couldn’t justify having surgery. At least not yet, not until I knew all my options.
So, I met with my naturopath.
He said that he had had luck dissolving sediment and smaller stones! He also said it is possible to dissolve larger ones, but it will take awhile and they might not fully dissolve. If you think about it, these small stones take years to develop so they would take years to dissolve.
I liked the trying to dissolve them answer the best.
I figured I should try it this way. As a nutritionist, I know the result could end up being the removal of my gallbladder (you can do things to support having no gallbladder and live a healthy/normal life), but once it is gone it is gone – you cannot undo that. So, in the end, I might still end up having surgery, but I can live with myself knowing that I tried everything I could to save my gallbladder. I think I would always wonder if I just had it removed.
Now, the surgery isn’t as invasive as it once was. It is mainly done laparoscopy now with three small incisions in your abdomen, and you usually go home the same day. Some people recover within a few days, others it takes a few weeks until they can resume normal activities. You still will experience the risks with anesthetic and surgery but for some, these risks outweigh the potential problem of keeping your gallbladder.
Your gallbladder isn’t essential; you can live without it. It is a small pear-shaped sac located underneath your liver. Its primary function is to store bile produced by your liver and pass it along through a duct that empties into the small intestine.
This bile is stored and then released when you eat a fatty meal. This bile will help you digest the fats. When you do not have a gallbladder, it hinders your fat digestion. Bile is produced, but it constantly trickles into the intestines. When you eat a fatty meal, there isn’t the extra stored bile in the gallbladder to help digest the fats.
For some people after gallbladder surgery, their fat digestion is compromised, and they either need a digestive enzyme or have irregular bowel movements including emergency runs to the bathroom after a fatty meal. Undiluted bile is secreted into the intestinal tract and continually raising your pH level. There is some loss of water and minerals as the gallbladder is no longer concentrating the bile and fat-soluble vitamins are not absorbed properly. Also, colorectal cancer in the ascending colon is sometimes associated with gallbladder removal.
This alone made me want to try and keep this little organ!
Gallstones are made of cholesterol and bilirubin. They are often caused by inactive lifestyles, low water intake, and imbalance in the composition of bile. A lack of vitamin C is associated with the development of gallstones as well.
Apparently, they are commonly found in Fair, Fat, Flatulent, Fertile Females. After the compression of the gallbladder during pregnancy, the gallbladder might fail to drop back down into its original position hindering its function. From what I understand, gallstones tend to grow 1-2 mm per year on average, so I am thinking that I got them when I was pregnant with my daughter prior to becoming a nutritionist. When I got the stones I was overweight (weighing in around 225…probably higher - I stopped looking at the scale at 225), I was/am fair, I was/am fertile and I am/was a female. So, I was 4/5 of the most common elements of the “ideal gallstone host.” Due to the substantial weight gain and the baby pushing up on my gallbladder, it couldn’t drain properly, sludge formed, and then the sludge went to stones and they gradually grew over the years.
So, for now, I decided to keep it.
I know it won’t happen overnight and a lot of changes are required to try and dissolve the stones. However, I figure it isn’t bothering me, so I don’t see the necessity in rushing to surgery.
Research and Discipline Pay Off
It has been six months and ten days since I’ve had an attack!
The 6 month anniversary of my attack was just over a week ago; I booked an ultrasound for my gallbladder. Guess what? The stones shrunk 1-2 mm. They are now sitting at 3-4 mm versus 5mm or less. Although it is only a millimeter or two, it is a win in my book! By doing what I am doing, I haven’t had an attack in 6 months, and they are a bit smaller, so I am on the right track!
That second surgeon along with my naturopath gave me the drive to take my health into my own hands!
What did I do?
The first thing I did was “Google.” Because, obviously!
Google is excellent isn’t it? You can have a dot on your skin and next thing you know you are dying according to your search. I put a stop to that fast! (I should have known better, but it is ever so tempting) Instead, I sought out scientific reports, textbooks etc. - much better! My recommendation - don't google it will give you anxiety about your condition unless you know what you are looking for.
I admit, the one thing that intrigued me with the random Google search was all these gallbladder flush sites out there! They weren’t medical sites, but most of them included a gallbladder flush or a variation of it.
One thing that interested me with these searches is you could drink a bunch of apple cider, apple cider vinegar, take some olive oil, some Epsom salts and purge the stones out of your system.
I would not recommend this unless you would like a trip to Emergency for immediate surgery to dislodge a stone from your bile duct! In my search, I haven’t read of anyone to do this or succeed at it! I did read an article that said in China, they do sometimes perform gallbladder flushes - but with that being said, it is done under medical supervision at all times and sometimes involves heavy painkillers to pass the stones.
If you have done a flush in the past or know someone who has, let us know your experience!
The flush wasn’t for me, so I kept searching.
Ultimately, I’ve changed my diet to relieve stress from my gallbladder/liver, incorporated lots of fruits and vegetables and less hard-to-digest foods (less meat, no red meat, no BBQ, no processed foods (not that I really ate them before either, though). I am drinking apple cider vinegar, lemon water, apple cider and other acidic drinks to help dissolve them.
I am also on two natural supplements, which were suggested by my naturopath and that I also researched. Two of the herbs in one of those supplements have government-based reports stating they dissolve gallstones in clinical studies.
There is a lot of information out there these days, but you have to look at what is a reliable source. Who did the study? What were the parameters of the study? I know a lot about gallstones, but there is still more I would like to learn. Doing my research and continuously learning has lead me to make informed decisions about my health and help my clients.
Remember, doctors are amazing, but they are also human. They cannot know everything about everything. You need to remember to advocate for yourself and make educated and informed decisions about your health. You are the one that needs to live with your choice, not them.
Here are a couple of interesting articles that you might want to read for more information.
They certainly helped me on this journey:
Here is an interesting article outlining Chinese treatments for gallstones, an interesting take on another cultures treatment: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/gallstones.htm
Do you have a health scare story? What about a time where you have taken your health into your own hands?
Share it with us! I’d love to hear from you and what you’ve done to help heal yourself naturally!
Please note that this is my personal story and will not work for everyone. Always contact a health care professional and work together to make sure the treatment is right for you.