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Gallstones

What Are the Symptoms of Gallstones?

Gallstones often don't cause symptoms. Those that don't are called "silent stones." A person usually learns he or she has gallstones while being examined for another illness.

When symptoms do appear, they may include:

How Are Gallstones Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you have gallstones, he or she will do a physical exam and may perform various other tests, including the following:

  • Blood tests: Blood tests may be given to check for signs of infection or obstruction and/or to rule out other conditions.
  • Ultrasound : This procedure produces images of various parts of the body and can be used to identify gallstones.
  • CAT scan : This test uses specialized X-rays to create cross-section images of organs and body tissues.
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP): This test uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to get pictures of structures inside the body, including the liver and the gallbladder.

  • Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan): This test can determine whether the gallbladder is contracting correctly. A radioactive material is injected into the patient and makes its way to the gallbladder. The technician can then observe the movement of the gallbladder.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: This test combines ultrasound and endoscopy to look for gallstones.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): The doctor inserts an endoscope through the patient's mouth down to the small intestine and injects a dye to allow the bile ducts to be seen. The doctor can often then remove any gallstones that have moved into the ducts.

How Are Gallstones Treated?

Gallstones are usually treated with surgery to take out the gallbladder. The traditional operation is called an open cholecystectomy. A newer procedure, called laparoscopic cholecystectomy, is less invasive, has fewer complications, and is used more often.

  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy. During this procedure, instruments, a light, and a camera are passed through several small incisions in the abdomen. The surgeon views the inside of the body by looking at a video monitor. This procedure is used in of the majority of gallbladder removals. After the surgery, the patient spends the night in the hospital.
  • Open cholecystectomy. This is a more invasive procedure in which the surgeon makes incisions in the abdomen to remove the gallbladder. The patient stays in the hospital for a few days after the surgery.

If gallstones are in the bile ducts, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography may be used to find and remove them before or during gallbladder surgery.

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