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BACKGROUND: While parous women are known to be at an increased risk of gallbladder disease, little is known about the effects of other reproductive factors such as breastfeeding, age at menarche and age at menopause. METHODS: The Million Women Study is a prospective cohort study of 1.3 million middle-aged women in England and Scotland recruited from 1996 to 2001. Participants were followed-up by record-linkage for a mean of 6.1 years for admissions to hospital. The adjusted relative risk of hospital admission for cholelithiasis, cholecystitis or cholecystectomy according to parity, breastfeeding, age at menarche and age at menopause was examined. RESULTS: During follow-up of 1 289 029 eligible women, 25 111 were admitted to hospital for gallbladder disease, of whom 21 735 (87%) had a cholecystectomy. The hospital admission rate over 5 years for gallbladder disease was 1.6/100 women and for cholecystectomy was 1.4/100 women. The adjusted relative risk of gallbladder disease increased with increasing parity by 8% (95% CI 7-9%, P < 0.0001) for each birth. Among women of a given parity, breastfeeding reduced the risk of gallbladder disease, the relative risk decreasing by 7% (95% CI 5-10%, P < 0.0001) per year of breastfeeding. Women's age of menarche and age at menopause did not alter the risk of gallbladder disease (P = 0.4 and P = 0.3, respectively for linear trend). CONCLUSION: Hospitalization for gallbladder disease is common in middle-aged women. The risk increases the more children a woman has had, but decreases the longer she breastfeeds. The increased risk of gallbladder disease associated with having children can be offset by breastfeeding.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Epidemiol

Publication Date





312 - 318


Age Factors, Breast Feeding, England, Female, Gallbladder Diseases, Hospitalization, Humans, Menarche, Menopause, Middle Aged, Parity, Pregnancy, Prospective Studies, Reproductive History, Risk Assessment, Scotland