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The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile. This is a substance that helps with digestion. Deposits in bile can clump together, creating hard, pebble-like stones. These gallstones may not cause any symptoms. In some cases, though, they irritate the walls of the gallbladder. Or they can block flow of bile out of the gallbladder. If they fall into the common bile duct, stones can block the flow of bile into the small bowel. This can lead to jaundice, pain, or serious infection. Stones are treated only if you have symptoms. If treatment is needed, your doctor will discuss your options with you. The most common treatments are listed below.
Oral medication may be prescribed. This can dissolve some kinds of small stones. It takes time for the medication to work. And stones may return. Medication is often tried when surgery is not an option.
ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) is a procedure to remove stones. It uses a thin tube with video and x-rays to locate stones blocking the flow of bile. The stones are then removed. ERCP may be done alone. Or it may be used before surgery is done to remove the gallbladder.
Surgery is done to remove the whole gallbladder. This also removes the stones. It is called cholecystectomy. It is often done using laparoscopic technique. This is surgery that uses a long, lighted tool with a camera called a laparoscope. It is done through a few small incisions made in the abdomen. This is instead of one larger one used for open surgery.
If you keep your gallbladder, you will need to take steps to prevent gallstones from returning. Do this by choosing low-fat foods. Choose only lean meats, lean poultry, and fish. Avoid full-fat dairy products. And limit vegetable oils. Read food labels to be sure they’re low in fat.