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Gall Bladder Disease
by Ronald Hoggan

Gall bladder disease or malfunction is often associated with celiac disease. It can cause pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, just at the lowest rib on the right side. In one study of 1300 celiacs in Canada, 9% indicated that gall stones were the earliest presentation, sometimes followed by many years prior to correct diagnosis of their celiac disease. In another report, Dr. Kozlowska indicated that 13 of the 41 newly diagnosed celiacs she investigated were suffering from atresia, a condition which is a partial or complete blockage of the bile duct.

CCK (cholecystokinin) is the hormone responsible for gall bladder contraction. The bulk of this hormone is produced in the duodenum.

Active celiac disease would be likely, then, to cause a reduction or a cessation of duodenal production of CCK. A radiologist in Hungary is currently researching this problem. In private correspondence, one gastroenterologist reports having found (accidentally) a gallstone in a 12 year old girl who had active celiac disease.

The 30% incidence of atresia among celiac children, as reported by Dr. Kozlowska, would suggest an even higher number among adults with active celiac disease. Given the low level of clinical suspicion for celiac disease in North America, it would not be at all surprising if a large portion of patients with gall bladder disease were suffering from occult celiac disease. Future research may reveal that gall stones and atresia are only symptoms of celiac disease.

I did a Medline search on cck and celiac disease. I got 65 hits. Researchers repeatedly identified a connection between celiac disease and gall bladder malfunction with such comments as: "Thus the already impaired fat absorption in celiac sprue is magnified by the lack of bile delivery....."; and "We conclude that there is a reversible defect of gallbladder emptying and cholecystokinin release in celiac disease." and "Cholecystokinin (cck) release and gall bladder emptying in response to a fatty meal are completely abolished in coeliac disease." and "the abnormally decreased gallbladder contraction in coeliac patients is the result of endogenous cck secretion and not a lack of end-organ responsiveness to cck."

There just isn't much ambiguity there. If you've got celiac disease, you have gall bladder malfunction, of the sort that may well develop into atresia and gallstones.

Upon receiving a diagnosis of gall bladder disease, whether gall stones or atresia, one might be wise to request a blood test for celiac disease. The anti-endomysial antibody test is currently the most reliable and available test.

Now, given the low level of clinical suspicion for celiac disease, I anticipate the suggestion that absent gall bladder emptying, atresia, and gall stones might occur in the absence of celiac disease. I did another Medline search, and I can't find a single study that has tested atresia patients or gallstone patients for celiac disease. My answer to the suggestion that gall bladder disease may occur in the absence of celiac disease is that there is no evidence to support such a contention. Considerable evidence exists, however, which points to celiac disease as a likely cause of gall bladder malfunction, atresia, or stones. As for childhood gallstones, there appears to be only one answer.... it is associated with celiac disease.

A view that incorporates the association of gall bladder disease, and celiac disease, but does not preclude the above, has been expressed by Dr. Joseph Murray, of the University of Iowa, who is a gastroenterologist specializing in treating celiac disease. He believes there are several "triggers" that can activate Celiac disease in genetically susceptible people. One of them is: Surgery, particularly GI (gall bladder, etc.) In any case, the connection between celiac disease and gall bladder disease is well known.

I hope this is helpful.

Ron Hoggan