How Do I Know if I Have Gallstones?
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Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy ESWL: A device that generates shock waves is used to break gallstones up into tiny pieces. If an individual goes to an emergency department, an IV line may be started, and pain medication and antibiotics may be given through the IV.
If the patient's health permits it, the health care practitioner will probably recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder and the stones. Surgical removal helps prevent future episodes of abdominal pain and more dangerous complications such as inflammation of the pancreas and infection of the gallbladder and liver. The usual treatment for symptomatic or complicated gallstones is surgical removal of the gallbladder.
This is called cholecystectomy. Many people who have gallbladder disease are understandably concerned about having their gallbladder removed. They wonder how they can function without a gallbladder. Most gallbladders are removed by laparoscopic cholecystectomy. The gallbladder is removed through a small slit in the abdomen using small tube-like instruments.
The gallbladder is sometimes removed through a 3 to 6 inch incision in the right upper abdomen. The open procedure usually is used only when laparoscopic surgery is not feasible for a specific person. Common reasons for doing an open procedure are infection in the biliary tract and scars from previous surgeries.
This procedure is performed in the operating room with the patient under general anesthesia. It usually takes 45 to 90 minutes. A general surgeon performs the operation. Occasionally, ERCP is done just before or during surgery to locate any gallstones that have left the gallbladder and are located elsewhere in the biliary system.
These can be removed at the same time as surgery, eliminating the risk that they might cause a complication in the future. ERCP also may be performed after surgery if a gallstone is later found in the biliary tract.
Sometimes ERCP is done without surgery, for example in people who are too frail or ill to undergo surgery. If the gallbladder has been removed, office visits to the general surgeon are required to check the operation sites one to three times following the operation. No other follow-up or long-term care is required. A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet can prevent symptoms of gallstones but cannot prevent formation of stones. It is not known why some people form stones and others do not.
If gallstones block one of the biliary ducts, the result is inflammation and swelling of the organs "upstream" of the blocked duct.
If a person chooses not to have their gallbladder removed, it is likely they will have recurring abdominal pain and possibly complications. Medically reviewed by a John A. Abdominal Pain Slideshow Pictures. Test Your Medical IQ. Healthy Dieting Myths and Facts Slideshow.
Readers Comments 12 Share Your Story. Readers Comments 34 Share Your Story. Cancerous Tumors Multiple Sclerosis. You might not even know you have them until they block a bile duct, causing pain that you need to get treated right away. Bile can be part of the problem. Your body needs bile, but if it has too much cholesterol in it, that makes gallstones more likely.
Pigment stones are more common in people with certain medical conditions, such as cirrhosis a liver disease or blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia.
This is one of the biggest risk factors. Obesity can raise your cholesterol level and also make it harder for the gallbladder to empty completely. You take birth control pills , hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms , or are pregnant. The extra estrogen is the problem. It can increase cholesterol and make it harder for the gallbladder to empty.
People with this condition tend to have higher levels of triglycerides a type of blood fat , which is a risk factor for gallstones. You take medicine to lower your cholesterol. Some of these drugs boost the amount of cholesterol in bile, which may increase your chances of getting cholesterol stones. You lost weight too quickly.
Your liver makes extra cholesterol, which may lead to gallstones. Your gallbladder may not squeeze as much. Gallstones are also more likely if they run in your family, and they're likelier among women, older people, and some ethnic groups, including Native Americans and Mexican-Americans. You might not notice anything, or even know you have gallstones, unless your doctor tells you.
But if you do get symptoms, they usually include:. Blood tests to check for signs of infection or obstruction, and to rule out other conditions. This quick procedure makes images of the inside of your body. Specialized X-rays allow your doctor to see inside your body, including your gallbladder. Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography MRCP. This test uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio-wave energy to make pictures of the inside of your body, including the liver and the gallbladder.
This test can check on whether the gallbladder squeezes correctly. Doctors inject a harmless radioactive material, which makes its way to the organ.