Gallstones Now a Problem for Obese Youth, Study Finds

Gallstones, a relatively common digestive disease in obese adults, are now affecting children and adolescents who struggle with obesity.

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition found that girls who were obese were six times more likely to have gallstones – small deposits that occur inside the gallbladder – than their normal weight peers. Obese boys were twice as likely to have gallstones as their normal weight peers, according to a news release from Kaiser Permanente.

“Although gallstones are relatively common in obese adults, gallstones in children and adolescents have been historically rare,” said lead author Corinna Koebnick, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation. “These findings add to an alarming trend – youth who are obese or extremely obese are more likely to have diseases we normally think of as adult conditions.”

The study looked at the health records of more than 500,000 children from the ages of 10 to 19 over a three-year period.

Studies have shown that obesity raises the risk for gallstones, particularly among women. Gallstones can block the passage of bile into the intestine, according to the news release. This can cause damage or infection to the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas.

Some people never have symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health. But when they do, it is often marked by pain in the right upper or middle upper part of the abdomen, fever and jaundice.

“The high rate of gallstones in obese children and adolescents may surprise pediatricians because gallstone disease is generally regarded as an adult disorder,” said Dr. George Longstreth, senior study author and a gastroenterologist from Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center. “Since obesity is so common, pediatricians must learn to recognize the characteristic symptoms of gallstones.”

Sources: Kaiser Permanente news release, National Institutes of Health, National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

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