Gallstone cases on the rise

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  • Published 10.08.11

Aug. 9: There has been an alarming rise in the number of gall bladder stone cases in the Northeast in the past few years and doctors attribute this to the fast changing lifestyle and food habits.

Ilias Ali, professor of surgery and head of emergency medicine at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, told The Telegraph that there had been a sudden rush of patients to the GMCH and to his private hospital at Hatigaon in the city, with complaints of acute pain in the upper abdomen. Most of these patients were later diagnosed to be suffering from gallstones.

He said most of the hospitals in Assam have reported a sudden increase in gallstones cases though no official study has been conducted on the causes behind this rise so far.

“I perform 40 to 50 gallstone surgeries every month and about 500 surgeries a year. A few years ago, I used to perform 100 to 150 gallstone surgeries in one year. Some patients having gallstones do not suffer any pain in the upper abdomen. Such cases are called silent gall bladder stones. These patients normally do not come for treatment, as they are unaware of their condition. This itself speaks of the intensity of gallstone scenario in the state,” Ali added.

In small towns like Dhubri, 50 to 60 patients are detected with gallstones every month. Dr Debamoy Sanyal, a renowned physician in the district, said gallstones were now being detected in all age groups and were more prevalent among women.

Chandra Bora, a surgeon at Sanjiwani Nursing Home in Jorhat, said women suffered more from gallstones because hormonal changes after pregnancy led to acidic deposit and other digestive problems, resulting in stone formation. “Chances of digestive disorders are also more in fat people and women in Assam particularly grow fatter as they grow older,” he added.

Some doctors said there was an increasing tendency among women to eat junk food, a major cause for the formation of gallstones.

The alarming rise in the number of gallstone cases is not confined to Assam. The illness has made its presence felt in neighbouring Nagaland and Manipur as well.

Deitho Koza, who works with the National Rural Health Mission in Nagaland, said a primary reason for the increase in gallstones cases in the state was excessive consumption of fast food in the Naga society that led to high concentration of cholesterol in bile.

“In Naga society, most gallstone cases are reported among women because of high concentration of cholesterol in their bodies as they are fond of eating fast food and hardly exercise. Cholesterol is very important for the body but its excessive concentration causes gallstones. On an average, two out of 10 Nagas suffer from gallstones because of lack of exercise,” Koza said.

Manipur, too, has witnessed a high rate of gallstone cases. “Gallstone cases are endemic in Manipur and on the rise,” S. Jugindra, surgeon and medical superintendent of Shija Hospitals and Research Institute, the largest private hospital in the state, said.

The government-run Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital and the centrally-owned Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) have also recorded an increase in such cases.

“We are carrying out three to four open surgeries and one to two keyhole surgeries daily. It is alarming,” Ninthoujam Somorjit, a surgeon at Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, said.

RIMS medical superintendent in-charge H. Shanti Singh said the hospital performs about 20 operations every week.

Doctors cited various causes for gallstones. Infections also lead to stones inside the gall bladder, they said.

“Gall bladder stone is a tomb of death bacteria,” Kh. Palin, managing director of Shija hospitals, said.

Jugindra said use of mustard oil could be one of the reasons for increase in the prevalence of gallstones in the region. “We can try to use coconut oil since it has been found that the number of gallstone cases are lesser in south India because of the use of coconut oil,” he said.

Doctors said many who suffered from typhoid and high fever during childhood were found to suffer from gallstones later in their lives in Manipur.

Sources said the scenario was similar in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.

Ali said gallstone cases were as old as man and scientists had discovered it even in an Egyptian mummy, dating back to 1000 B.C. “Hence, there is an urgent need to study the sudden rise in gallstones cases in the region,” he said.

Umesh Chandra Sarma, vice-chancellor of Srimanta Sankaradeva University of Health Sciences, said going by the increase in gallstone cases, it would be relevant to go for research to find out its causes and remedies. He said the health university would make an effort to conduct a proper study about the illness.