How are gallstones treated?

Most people with gallstones have no symptoms. Gall stones which do not cause symptoms do not require treatments, in most cases.

A few of the more common complications of gallstones include typical gall stone pain (biliary colic), infection of the gall bladder (cholecystitis), gallstone pancreatitis, others rare conditions.

Once you have experienced a complication from gallstones, the primary treatment is surgical removal of your gall bladder.

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal) is probably the most common surgery to alleviate the symptoms of gallstones. The procedure is a day surgery that takes about one hour.

There are several possible options for treating gallstones. These include:

  • Cholecystectomy: a surgical procedure where surgeons remove the gallbladder and restructure the biliary system so that bile flows directly from the liver into the small intestine. This procedure is usually performed laparoscopically, lowering the risk for patients and shortening their recovery time, compared with traditional, open surgery.
  • Oral drug therapy: Drugs produced from bile acid may dissolve stones.
  • Directly injected therapy: A solution may be injected directly into the gallbladder to dissolve the stones.
  • Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy: A procedure that uses shock waves to break up stones into smaller pieces so they can pass through the bile ducts.
Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Because there isn't a good medicine available to treat symptomatic gallstones (solid deposits of cholesterol or calcium salts within the gallbladder that form from the bile produced by your liver), surgical treatment is the best option if you're in good health (a low-fat diet can help alleviate the frequency or intensity of pain attacks, but it doesn't make the stones disappear). Surgery involves removal of the gallbladder as well as the stones and is performed laparoscopically ("keyhole" surgery) via small incisions in the abdomen. When surgery is done electively, it can be done as an outpatient procedure.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.