What is the treatment for gallstones?

Gallstones can be treated with medicine or with surgery. Gallstones are hard, pebble-like deposits that form in the gallbladder, the organ located below your liver and above your small intestine. Your gallbladder concentrates and stores bile, a yellowish fluid made by your liver, and when you eat a meal, your gallbladder contracts, sending bile through a duct into your small intestine.
Gallstones form when certain components of bile precipitate out and form a solid. Often gallstones cause no symptoms, but they can be serious health threats if they cause a blockage in a duct or in the intestine or bowel.

To treat gallstones your doctor may prescribe medicine that contains acids that can dissolve the gallstones slowly, over a period of about two years. In some cases, the stones may form again when you stop taking the medicine.

Another option is a surgical procedure called a  cholecystectomy, or removal of the gallbladder. Doctors can perform the surgery through either a traditional incision or through a surgical tool called a laparoscope that requires only minimal incisions. Because surgery offers a permanent solution, it is often the treatment of choice for people who have gallstones.
UCLA Health
In patients who develop recurrent or persistent symptoms, surgery to remove the gallbladder is almost always required. If left unchecked, gallstones may block bile ducts and cause jaundice (yellowing of the skin) or inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas. Complications from blocked bile ducts can include severe and potentially fatal infections affecting the gallbladder or pancreas and increase the risk for developing gallbladder cancer. While a gastroenterologist trained in endoscopy may be able to remove stones that have moved from the gallbladder and lodged in the bile ducts, removal of the gallbladder itself, if necessary, remains in the hands of a surgeon.
Lee T. Austin, MD
Gallstones that don't cause symptoms usually don't need treatment. Symptoms of gallstones include sudden, intensifying right upper quadrant abdominal pain, back pain between shoulder blades, and pain in the right shoulder. Treatment options include gallbladder removal, also known as a cholecystectomy, or medications that will dissolve the gallstones. Medications can take several months to years to dissolve the stones, so they are usually reserved for patients who are unable to go through with the surgery. 

Your two main treatment options for gallstones are surgery or medication. Once you have gallstones, they tend to reoccur, so your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder. You don't need a gallbladder to digest food and can live without it. Some people take medication to dissolve gallstones but this can take a long time, even years, for it to work. A new procedure that injects medication directly into the gallbladder is being tested for safety.

Continue Learning about Gallstones


Your gallbladder contains digestive fluids that help you process foods that you eat. When these fluids harden they are call gallstones. Gallstones range in size from smaller than a grain of sand to golf ball size. Gallstones might ...

not cause any symptoms. If you experience sudden pain in the upper right part of your abdomen or in the center of your abdomen, pain in your right shoulder or back pain between your shoulders, you may have gallstones that need medical attention.

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.