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Treating Gallstones

The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile. This is a substance that helps with digestion. Deposits in bile can clump together, creating hard, pebble-like stones. These gallstones may not cause any symptoms. In most cases, gallstones have no symptoms. In some cases, though, they irritate the walls of the gallbladder. Or they can block flow of bile out of the gallbladder. If they fall into the common bile duct, stones can block the flow of bile into the small bowel. This can lead to jaundice, pain, or serious infection. Stones are treated only if you have symptoms. If treatment is needed, your healthcare provider will discuss your choices with you. The most common treatments are listed below.

Medicine

Medicines to dissolve gallstones don't really work well and you may have to be on them for a long time to work. They work best for small stones. But, once the medicine is stopped, the gallstones usually build up again.

ERCP

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) is an outpatient procedure that needs heavy sedation to remove stones. It uses a thin tube with video and X-rays to locate stones blocking the flow of bile. The stones are then removed. ERCP may be done alone. Or it may be used before surgery is done to remove the gallbladder.

Surgery

A cholecystectomy is an operation to remove the gallbladder and its contents (gallstones). Today, most cholecystectomies are done laparoscopically. This means using several very small abdominal incisions. Cholecystectomy may also be done with the traditional single, larger incision. 

Prevent future symptoms

After treatment, follow a low-fat diet as directed. This diet includes lean meats, lean poultry, and fish. Stay away from full-fat dairy products. And limit vegetable oils. Read food labels to be sure they’re low in fat.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
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