Joanne Smith and Kylie JamesPeople rarely give their gallbladder much thought until they have a problem. Those of us with SCI should be paying attention to this little pear-shaped organ long before that because we have an increased prevalence of gallstones (cholelithiasis). Studies indicate our risk of developing gallstones is three to six times higher than nondisabled people belonging to similar demographic groups. Cholelithiasis is so significant that it is now considered a secondary complication of SCI.

Gallstones range in size from a speck of sand to a pea. The gallbladder’s role is to store and secrete one liter of bile produced by your liver each day. Bile is a critically important digestive secretion that plays a multitude of roles in your digestion and health.

Bile breaks down fat globules into smaller fat droplets, so they can be properly digested. Fat molecules carry vitamins D, E, K and A throughout your body. These four fat-soluble vitamins, commonly deficient in people with SCI, play vital roles in the prevention and management of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and pressure sores. Sufficient amounts of bile are essential for the proper digestion of fats, absorption of essential nutrients and prevention of serious secondary health complications. Bile also helps neutralize acidic food and damage it causes, keeps your small intestines free of microorganisms, reduces bloating, helps stimulate intestinal peristalsis and helps prevent constipation.

Gallstones can block the bile duct through which bile is released into the intestines. The gallbladder can then become inflamed and unable to perform its vital