Gallstones are hardened deposits of varying size that form in the gallbladder but can move to through to other parts of the biliary tract (into ducts that carry bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine). It is possible to have one gallstone or multiple.
What are the Symptoms of Gallstones?
The majority of gallstones do not cause any symptoms. However, some people do experience symptoms, most commonly sudden, right upper abdominal pain. Other symptoms can include:
- Central abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Nausea and vomiting
How are Gallstones Diagnosed?
If gallstones are suspected, imaging can be ordered. For visualization of the gallbladder, abdominal ultrasound or CT or is ordered, whereas HIDA scan, MRI, or ERCP is used for imaging of the bile ducts. Blood tests can also be drawn to check liver function and investigate potential complications.
How are Gallstones Treated?
Most often, gallstones that do not cause symptoms do not require treatment. For those that are symptomatic, it is possible to try medications that dissolve the gallstones. However, this can take time and is not always effective. Alternatively, surgery can be performed to remove the gallbladder (called a cholecystectomy).