I have gallstones. What next?

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Courtesy of DHR Health

By Cera Kroenke, D.O.
DHR Health Surgery Institute

Gallstones are very common, with over 15% of the adult population in the United States affected. Gallstones can be made of different chemical substances and can range in size and number.

Risk factors for the development of gallstones include being of female gender, age over 40 years, being a member of the Hispanic population, obesity, and being diabetic, as well as having other chronic medical conditions.

Gallstones are usually found incidentally on imaging studies performed for other reasons, most commonly, an abdominal ultrasound.
When gallstones are found in a patient without pain, there is usually no need to remove the gallbladder. However, there are certain high-risk patients who should have their gallbladder removed when stones are found, regardless of symptoms.

Typical symptoms due to gallstones are abdominal pain located in the epigastric region, the right upper abdomen or right back/shoulder. The pain can occur after meals, especially those consisting of greasy and fatty foods, or at night. The pain usually does not go away by changing positions or passing gas.

If you are having symptoms from gallstones, the options are to modify your lifestyle to avoid triggers (eating a healthy diet, avoiding greasy/fatty foods, and exercising) or surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). To remove gallstones, the entire gallbladder must be taken out.

Surgery to remove the gallbladder is usually done either laparoscopically or robotically. Both procedures include small incisions to visualize and remove the gallbladder while using a camera. This operation is typically a short procedure, which does not usually require a hospital stay. Most often, patients are discharged the same day as their scheduled surgery and are back to their normal activities, with few limitations, in a matter of days.

Gallstones can cause more severe issues, besides pain, in some patients, including acute cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), common bile duct stones, cholangitis, and pancreatitis. In patients who have experienced these gallstone-related complications, cholecystectomy is indicated.

If you believe you are having pain associated with gallstones, please ask your primary care provider for a referral to a surgeon for further evaluation and possible cholecystectomy. For more information or to speak to one of our experts at DHR Health Surgery Institute, please call (956) 362-8170.