When galling doctors attack

Alisha writes…

Until this last year, I avoided going to the doctor like the plague. I remember hearing “lose weight” every time my mom took me to a pediatrician.  By the time I was old enough to decide when I wanted to go to the doctor, I more often than not opted not to, even if I was sick.

When I was about twenty, I started experiencing terrible stomach pains.  The pains came out of nowhere; I was drinking a smoothie and suddenly felt like I was going to throw up. It was a hard pain to describe; it would come and go, and was both a burning and a cramping. It felt like it was at the top of my stomach. The first time it happened, I thought it was heartburn; I took a handful of Pepto Bismol and slept until it went away.

But it kept coming back. I discovered that if I either took a lot of Pepto Bismol or ate a lot, of anything, the pain went away. After a few weeks of this I went in to my university medical center and saw one of the doctors there. The nurse took my temperature, took my blood pressure (normal), and weighed me (186 pounds). Then the doctor saw me and asked me a few questions. I described the pain; he asked if I had any history of gall bladder disease in my family. I said no. He asked if the pain radiated toward my back on the right side, and I said no.

Regardless, this doctor informed me that I had gall stones and needed an expensive ultrasound to confirm it. I didn’t know anything about it; I was shocked at first, and asked what caused it. He told me that a high fat diet and crash dieting could cause gall stones. When I told him I had never been on a crash diet, he just said “that’s the most common cause” as if I were lying. When I said I wasn’t eating a high fat diet, he said “well, you might not think it is, but that’s what causes the pain.” I tried to explain to him that the pain would come after drinking lots of water, after eating salad, in the middle of the day for no reason and that eating something fatty and carby usually made it better.

He just shook his head at me and reiterated what he’d already said about crash dieting, and fatty foods, and said that people who are overweight often have gallstones. I told him I didn’t have the money for an expensive test, and that from what he’d said I didn’t really have the symptoms of gall bladder disease, and it really felt like it was my stomach.

His response? “Well, I can give you antacids, but it’s gall bladder disease. Stop eating fatty foods and lose some weight.”

I knew it wasn’t my gall bladder–but of course I’m just a fatty who obviously doesn’t know her own body. I wrote that doctor off as an idiot, and made an appointment with a different doctor. In the meantime, I did some online research, and determined that I most likely had a peptic ulcer. Unfortunately, the next doctor looked over the previous doctor’s notes, and again refused to look at any other possibilities.

I spent a year and a half having these painful episodes two or three times a week before I tried a third doctor, who finally listened to what I was experiencing and didn’t try to blame it on being a fatty who a) crash dieted herself into gall stones or b) stuffed herself with fat until gall stones developed. This same doctor never said a word about my weight unless I brought it up, and helped me get the help I needed for my depression as well as the ulcer. She helped me a lot with my doctor phobia.

Leave a comment


  1. Finding a doctor who trusts that you know your body better than they do is a real find. I adore my ob/gyn. When I told him something was very wrong with my body he didn’t second guess me or tell me it was related to weight or getting older. (He could have. Heavy periods can be related to age and size.) He ran the tests and there it was – cancer. I’m very lucky.

  2. mrsdrc

     /  May 20, 2008

    That right there is what I often find is the difference between an MD and DO. MD’s know your body better then you do and expect you to believe that also. DO’s want to find the REAL cause of the problem and work WITH you to resolve it.

  3. littlem

     /  May 21, 2008

    By the end of the second paragraph, I was thinking, “ulcer?” And I’m no doc. (I was going to be, when I was little.)

    I hope you wrote the first doc’s supervisor a stinging letter about his careless misdiagnosis, based on his complete and utter dismissal of what you were telling him.

  4. Lee

     /  May 23, 2008

    Good for you for perserving – there are a few good docs out there. Good luck with your health problems & thanks for sharing.

  5. Both doctors who diagnosed this as gallstones were definitely idiots – not just prejudiced, downright stupid. Coming from a medical family I’m often amazed at how clueless doctors can be about all sorts of things, but this is one of the worst cases I’ve heard of.

    Gall bladder pain is not felt at the top of the stomach, but on the right side just below the bottom rib. It almost always radiates to the back. More telling is that when you have a gallstone there’s absolutely nothing you can take for it to get rid of the pain aside from straight pain relievers. Pepto doesn’t fix it, eating doesn’t fix it, and antacids don’t fix it. The pain last for 18-20 hours and then suddenly stops – you just suddenly feel all better once the gallstone passes.

    The point is that gall bladder disease has very specific symptoms and even a first year med student should be able to tell that what’s being described here is not it. I could maybe see this being misdiagnosed as reflux rather than an ulcer, but gallstones? Both of these doctors need to go back to med school, or at least spend ten minutes reading WebMD.

  6. gnomeprincess

     /  July 7, 2008

    I had the opposite problem. I had gallstones (100s of them) and I went to emergency several times about the horrible attacks. They were so painful that I could not stand up at times, I couldn’t stay still (writhing in pain now has real meaning to me), I couldn’t do anything but scream and cry and sob and vomit. They occured sometimes with fatty meals, but other times with things that were low fat, sometimes with coffee (caffeine stimulates gallbladder contractions), and times they happened at 5am when I hadn’t eaten anything at all for close to 12 hours.

    The pain was pretty classic gallstone pain. Upper abdomen, radiated to the back, nausea, sudden fever, steady horrific pain. Do you know what the doctor said when he walked in? He took one look at me, told me it was just me being obese and eating fatty foods, nevermind that at the time I was obsessed with OA and eating NOTHING fatty at all. He told me to take some Zantac and there is no way it was gallstones. Refused to order any tests, refused to listen to me, and sent me home ashamed and crying.

    I decided to never see a doctor again if I didn’t have to, of course the attacks kept coming and got worse and worse until I was in pain so much at 5am one morning that I woke my boyfriend up and got him to drive me to the hospital. I lucked out and got a doctor who listened to me, and we found out that I did indeed have gallstones, that it wasn’t just me being fat and eating fatty foods.

    A couple months later I finally got in for surgery (caught two colds when I was supposed to have it removed previously and since it wasn’t blocking my pancreatic duct or the common bile duct they let me wait til I was better) and had my gallbladder removed.

    Other than the initial getting used to eating solid foods again, I haven’t had any more pain attacks. I’m still quite angry that I could have had my gallbladder out 6 months earlier had that doctor not dismissed me automatically as obese and therefore there was no way I had an ACTUAL problem other than being obese.

  7. gnomeprincess

     /  July 7, 2008

    Oh and to the person above me, very often gallbladder pain IS felt at the top of the stomach because the nerve that is being irritated goes by there so the pain will radiate and be felt in the middle of the top of the stomach instead of to the right. That was one reason doctors didn’t believe I had gallstones, I later found out from my surgeon that is very very common to feel it in the middle.

  8. gnomeprincess

     /  July 7, 2008

    Gah I should read everything before posting. Another reason they didn’t believe me was that my pain was not “18-20 hours” long. It was terrible debilitating excruciating pain that lasted 12 minutes to 3 hours. each episode.


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