Gallstones may be treated with surgery and medications.
If surgery is required, the following procedures may be used:
- Cholecystectomy: Surgical removal of the gallbladder, a procedure called cholecystectomy, is the most widely used therapy for gallstones, although this procedure is now mostly done laparoscopically. Though in some cases, due to infections or other surgeries, this traditional form of cholecystectomy will be performed. Four or five days of hospitalization are generally required for this procedure. Patients often do well after surgery and have no difficulty with digesting food.
- Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: UCSF Medical Center also offers a less-invasive procedure called laparoscopic cholecystectomy. During this procedure, the surgeon makes several incisions in the abdomen through which a tiny video camera and surgical instruments are passed. The video picture is viewed in the operating room on a TV screen, and the gallbladder can be removed by manipulating the surgical instruments. Because the abdominal muscles are not cut there is less postoperative pain, quicker healing, and better cosmetic results. You can usually go home from the hospital within a day and resume normal activities within a few days.
- Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): ERCP can be used to find stones in the bile duct, as described in the diagnosis section. When stones are detected, the doctor can widen the bile duct opening and pull the stones into the intestine. This is commonly done when the gallbladder is being removed laparoscopically or when a stone is found in the duct long after gallbladder surgery. If a patient is too frail to undergo gallbladder surgery, it also may be performed to relieve symptoms from a bile duct stone, even when other stones are present in the gallbladder.
Special chemicals, available in pill form, can be used to dissolve certain gallstones, such as those composed of cholesterol. However, due to a lack of medical research, the efficacy of these medications has not been proven yet.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.