Gallstones: What You Should Know
What Are the Symptoms?
You might not notice anything, or even know you have gallstones, unless your doctor tells you. But if you do get symptoms, they usually include:
- Pain in your upper belly and upper back that can last for several hours
- Other digestive problems, including bloating, indigestion and heartburn, and gas
How Do Doctors Diagnose Them?
If your doctor thinks you may have gallstones, he'll give you a physical exam. You may also get:
Blood tests to check for signs of infection or obstruction, and to rule out other conditions.
Ultrasound. This quick procedure is done in your doctor’s office, and it makes images of the inside of your body.
CT scan. Specialized X-rays allow your doctor to see inside your body, including your gallbladder.
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). This test uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio-wave energy to make pictures of the inside of your body, including the liver and the gallbladder.
Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan). This test can check on whether the gallbladder squeezes correctly. Doctors inject a harmless radioactive material, which makes its way to the organ. The technician can then watch its movement.
Endoscopic ultrasound. This test combines ultrasound and endoscopy to look for gallstones.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). The doctor inserts an endoscope through your mouth down to the small intestine and injects a dye to allow the bile ducts to be seen. He can often then remove any gallstones that have moved into the ducts.
What’s the Treatment?
Many people with gallstones get surgery to take out the gallbladder. There are two different kinds of operations.
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy. This is the more common procedure. The surgeon passes instruments, a light, and a camera through several small cuts in the belly. He views the inside of the body on a video monitor. Afterward, you spend the night in the hospital.
Open cholecystectomy. The surgeon makes bigger cuts in the belly to remove the gallbladder. You stay in the hospital for a few days after the operation.
If gallstones are in your bile ducts, the doctor may use ERCP to find and remove them before or during gallbladder surgery.