Teenagers and young adults now appear to undergo significantly more gallbladder surgeries than they did in the late 1990s. In fact, the procedure has risen more among 15–24 year olds than any other age group. Researchers say that increasing obesity in young people is likely the main factor behind the rise.
The gallbladder is a small organ, or sac, where bile from the liver is stored before passing to the small intestine. Gallstones are deposits of cholesterol that can form in the gallbladder. Most gallstones are too small to cause symptoms, but larger ones can block the gallbladder’s bile ducts and must be removed.
Because humans can live without a gallbladder, it’s possible to surgically remove the organ to treat complications. This surgery is called cholecystectomy. It’s often performed using a laparoscope, a lighted scope attached to a video camera that the surgeon inserts into a small incision near the belly button. The surgeon will make other incisions to remove the gallbladder, using the video camera as a guide.
According to a study presented at the 2014 Scientific Meeting of the Southeastern Surgical Congress, from 1998 through 2010 the rate of gallbladder surgery among young people almost quadrupled—rising from 3% to 13%. This was the biggest increase among any age group. Most of the younger population affected were obese.
Researchers used databases to identify 4.5 million individuals who had undergone gallbladder surgery between 1998 and 2010. They placed patients in the following age categories: 15–24, 25–34, 35–54, and 55 years and older.
The researchers found the biggest increase in gallbladder surgery in the youngest group (18–24). Their surgery rates rose 3.2%—compared with 2.2% for patients aged 24–35, 1.3% for patients aged 35–54, and less than 1% for patients over 55. This also corresponded with a larger increase in obesity in the younger group: 10.8% over 12 years compared with between 8.9% and 10.2%.
When the researchers evaluated risk factors for gallbladder surgery in young people, obesity came out the most significant: surgery rates rose almost 11% for obese young people compare with 2% for their non-obese contemporaries. In addition to obesity, other potential factors associated with surgery incidence included increased use of ultrasound, effects of estrogen on formation of gallstones, and more frequent use of surgery.
Obesity is a significant public health concern that can raise the risk of several serious health conditions, reduce quality of life, and increase medical expenses. Now with findings of a link between obesity and incidence of gallbladder surgery, it appears the obesity may be associated with yet another health risk and continued rising healthcare costs.
Reference: “Lap Chole Rates Surge in Younger Patients Correlates With Rise in Obesity,” Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News. June 10, 2014, http://www.gastroendonews.com//ViewArticle.aspx?ses=ogst&d=Web+Exclusives&d_id=242&i=ISSUE%3a+May+2014&i_id=1059&a_id=27620.