Treating Gallstones

March 21, 2017

Treating Gallstones

Outline of torso showing liver and stomach with cross section of gallbladder with stones.The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile. This is a substance that helps with digestion. Deposits in bile can clump together, creating hard, pebble-like stones. These gallstones may not cause any symptoms. In most cases, gallstones have no symptoms. In some cases, though, they irritate the walls of the gallbladder. Or they can block flow of bile out of the gallbladder. If they fall into the common bile duct, stones can block the flow of bile into the small bowel. This can lead to jaundice, pain, or serious infection. Stones are treated only if you have symptoms. If treatment is needed, your healthcare provider will discuss your choices with you. The most common treatments are listed below.


Medicines to dissolve gallstones don't really work. 


ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) is an outpatient procedure that needs heavy sedation to remove stones. It uses a thin tube with video and X-rays to locate stones blocking the flow of bile. The stones are then removed. ERCP may be done alone. Or it may be used before surgery is done to remove the gallbladder.


A cholecystectomy is an operation to remove the gallbladder and its contents (gallstones). Today, most cholecystectomies are done laparoscopically. This means using several very small abdominal incisions. Cholecystectomy may also be done with the traditional single, larger incision. 

Prevent future symptoms

After treatment, you should follow a low-fat diet. This diet includes lean meats, lean poultry, and fish. Avoid full-fat dairy products. And limit vegetable oils. Read food labels to be sure they’re low in fat.


March 21, 2017


Approach to the patient with incidental gallstones. UpToDate, Dissolution therapy for the treatment of gallstones. UpToDate, Patient Information: Gallstones (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate, Patient selection for the nonsurgical treatment of gallstone disease. UpToDate, Uncomplicated gallstone disease in adults. UpToDate

Reviewed By:  

Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP,Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.,Lehrer, Jenifer, MD