Gallstones are hard, pebble-like masses that form in your gallbladder, which is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, below your liver.
In many cases, gallstones don't lead to any symptoms, but they can cause pain, fever and jaundice. Most gallstones are small (less than 2.5cm in size) but they can be as large as the gallbladder itself.
Some people with gallstones will not require any treatment. They recover from the episode that brought the gallstones to their attention, and don’t experience any more problems. Some people discover they have gallstones incidentally, but don't have any issues with them.
Others will need treatment for gallstones.
Changes to your diet
For some individuals, gallstones can be treated by simply limiting fatty foods and dairy products.
Cholecystectomy is the most common method of curing gallstones. It does not affect your ability to digest food. You can live a healthy life without your gallbladder — it just means the bile flows directly from your liver to your small intestine.
The most common type of surgery is keyhole or laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Your surgeon will make a few small incisions in your abdomen, insert a miniature video camera and instruments, remove the gallbladder and stitch the incisions closed. The trapped gallstones can be removed at the same time.
If your gallbladder is very inflamed you may need open surgery, which requires a larger cut.
Keyhole surgery is better for most people because recovery is usually faster. You may be able to go home the day after your operation. If you have open surgery, on the other hand, you may need to stay in hospital for several days.
Medicines for gallstones
There are medicines that may be used to dissolve gallstones but they are not very effective and some have side effects. The gallstones return after treatment, so using medicines to treat gallstones is not commonly recommended.
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Last reviewed: April 2019