What is the treatment for gallstones?

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.

Gallstones are small stones formed from cholesterol that develop in the gallbladder or bile tracts. They often require surgery.

Dr. 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.

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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.

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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.