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Gallstones

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GI specialists at Houston Methodist offer minimally invasive surgical and nonsurgical options to remove gallstones of any size or complexity.

 

The size of a gallstone varies from a grain of sand to a golf ball. You may not realize you have a gallstone until your doctor diagnoses it or you experience pain.

 

Houston Methodist Gastroenterologists combine their expertise with state-of-the-art testing facilities to locate and remove the gallstone as soon — and as safely — as possible. The gallbladder is located just below the liver in the upper-right abdomen. Gallstones are small, pebble-like stone particles of cholesterol or calcium salts that form from bile (the water-like substance used to digest food).

 

Although gallstones found in the gallbladder may not cause immediate problems, they may produce discomfort when you eat certain foods. More serious cases of gallstones can lead to inflammation and severe abdominal pain. A gallstone can be life-threatening if the pancreas becomes inflamed.

High-Caliber Gallbladder Care

Patients trust our experts at the Underwood Center to provide personalized care tailored to their specific GI needs. Houston Methodist Hospital is ranked No. 5 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for Gastroenterology & GI Surgery. U.S. News & World Report has also named Houston Methodist Hospital the No. 1 hospital in Texas every year since the award began and one of the nation’s best as a nationally ranked Honor Roll hospital.

Minimally Invasive Gallstone Treatments

Our experts provide both surgical and nonsurgical gallstone treatments. Removing the gallbladder is a common and safe way that our surgeons treat painful gallstones.

 

A cholecystectomy is a minimally invasive, laparoscopic surgery that completely removes the gallbladder. Your doctor may recommend this surgery if you suffer from severe or chronic gallstone complications. During the surgery, a laparoscope (a tiny video camera with a special surgical tool) removes the gallbladder through a small incision.

 

Another option is open surgery, which removes the gallbladder through a larger abdominal incision. This may be used in extreme cases when the surgeon needs to remove the gallbladder immediately.

Gallstone Symptoms, Diagnosis & Risk Factors

What are the signs and symptoms of a gallstone?

The condition shows almost no signs or symptoms, initially. As the gallstone moves into the bile ducts, it can create a blockage and increase pressure inside the gallbladder. This usually leads to the first signs and symptoms, which can include any of the following:

Chronic indigestion
Clay-colored stools
Fever/chills
Intolerance of fatty, greasy foods
Jaundice (in severe cases)
Nausea and vomiting
Upper abdominal pain

 

How is a gallstone diagnosed?

Our experienced gastroenterologists use the latest technologies to diagnose gallstones. Common tests used include the following:

  • Blood test (to look for infection) – this liver function test looks at enzyme levels in the blood and can indicate inflammation in the gallbladder
  • Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan) – an imaging procedure to show how the gallbladder functions
  • Computed tomography (CT) – a moving X-ray produces detailed images of the gallbladder
  • Ultrasonography – soundwaves produce images of structures in the body

What increases the risk of gallstones?

Females are at an increased risk for developing gallstones due to extra estrogen, especially during pregnancy. But anyone can develop a gallstone. Additional risk factors include any of the following:

  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Close family history (parent, brother, sister, child) of gallstones
  • Diabetes
  • Diets high in fat and cholesterol
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Obese or overweight
  • Rapid weight loss (more than two pounds a week for several weeks)

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