If your doctor suspects you have gallstones, he or she will do a physical exam and may perform various other tests, including the following:
- Blood tests: Blood tests may be given to check for signs of infection or obstruction and/or to rule out other conditions.
- Ultrasound: This procedure produces images of various parts of the body and can be used to identify gallstones.
- CAT scan: This test uses specialized X-rays to create cross-section images of organs and body tissues.
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP): This test uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to get pictures of structures inside the body, including the liver and the gallbladder.
- Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan): This test can determine whether the gallbladder is contracting correctly. A radioactive material is injected into the patient and makes its way to the gallbladder. The technician can then observe the movement of the gallbladder.
- Endoscopic ultrasound: This test combines ultrasound and endoscopy to look for gallstones.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): The doctor inserts an endoscope through the patient’s mouth down to the small intestine and injects a dye to allow the bile ducts to be seen. The doctor can often then remove any gallstones that have moved into the ducts.
Gallstones that don’t cause signs and symptoms, such as those detected during an ultrasound or CT scan done for some other condition, typically don’t require treatment.
Your doctor may recommend you be alert for symptoms of gallstone complications, such as intensifying pain in your upper right abdomen. If gallstone signs and symptoms occur in the future, you can have treatment. But most people with gallstones that don’t cause symptoms will never need treatment.
Bile acids can be used to dissolve gallstones. They usually are reserved for people who have symptoms of gallstones and for whom surgery would be risky.
Surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy).
Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder, since gallstones frequently recur. Once your gallbladder is removed, bile flows directly from your liver into your small intestine, rather than being stored in your gallbladder.