Gallstones

Overview

Gallstones (cholelithiasis) develop when bile, a digestive fluid made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, builds up and hardens in the gallbladder or bile duct. They sometimes cause no symptoms and require no treatment, or they may be very painful. Surgery to remove the gall bladder is one of the most common operations performed on adults in the United Sates. Gallstones may cause blockage of the bile or pancreatic ducts, or inflammation of the all bladder or pancreas.

Symptoms

Symptoms of gallstones may include:

  • Bloating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Pain in the upper right or center of the abdomen that gets worse after a meal, particularly fatty or greasy foods
  • Pain in the right shoulder
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
If you have symptoms that concern you, especially abdominal pain that lasts longer than a few hours, is severe and accompanied by fever and chills, or if your skin or eyes look yellowish, call your doctor right away.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. Gallstone symptoms can be similar to those for other conditions, such as appendicitis, pancreatitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and ulcers. To rule out other causes for your symptoms, your doctor may order tests such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT (computed tomography) scan
  • Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan (cholescintigraphy): Radioactive material is administered through an IV needle and allows a doctor to examine the biliary system
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP): Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to look at the bile ducts 
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): A small ultrasound device in a tube is inserted down your throat. Sound waves from the ultrasound create pictures for your doctor to review.

Services & Treatment

Treatment options may include medication, endoscopic removal of gallstones (SRLP) or surgery to remove the gallbladder (a cholecystectomy). Usually, the surgery can be done in a minimally invasive way (a laparoscopic cholecystectomy) that requires only a few small incisions. Your doctor will recommend the treatment plan that is right for you.

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