What Is a Cholecystography?

Dan Harkins

Gallstones are a fairly common occurrence, forming in the gall bladder where the body's bile is stored. About 80 percent of those who develop these stones learn they are there through an x-ray examination known as a cholecystography. When pain persists, this test's confirmation of gallstones might be followed by surgical excision, dietary changes, or even a long regimen of drugs to slowly shrink them.

Cholelithiasis primarily affects women.
Cholelithiasis primarily affects women.

A cholecystography test often is ordered by a doctor after a patient complains of various symptoms that point to the presence of gallstones. This condition, known as cholelithiasis, primarily affects women, though both genders are susceptible. At 65, the chances are highest to develop symptoms of cholelithiasis like nausea, intense abdominal or back pain, digestive difficulty, and bloating. These pain attacks typically happen at rest, especially after having eaten a fatty meal.

A cholecystectomy is done to remove the gallbladder.
A cholecystectomy is done to remove the gallbladder.

The night before a cholecystography is performed, patients are made to take the contrast dye pills. This will spread throughout the bloodstream and into the gall bladder to produce radiological images that can confirm the suspected presence of abnormal growths in the organ. Radiologists are trained to identify not just gallstones during this test but other growths like tumors or polyps as well as an infection or an overall lack of proper function. Patients are regularly told to eat a fat-free meal the night before the test, then fast until after the appointment the next day.

During the test a radiologist is likely to ask for the patient to remove all clothing and jewelry and wear a hospital gown. Also common is the technologist performing an enema on the patient to remove any obsctruction in the bowels that could interfere with results. The remainder of the procedure involves lying still while a radiologist takes pictures of the abdomen, aimed at providing a view from every angle. A fatty type of food may be fed to the patient as well, and then more images are obtained to gauge how well the gall bladder is functioning.

According to the Medical University of South Carolina, a cholecystography is becoming a more dated technology in the diagnostics field. In 2011, doctors are more likely to order a nuclear, computer tomography or ultrasound test to diagnose an internal condition like gall stones. No matter how the confirmation is achieved, the typical follow-up after a cholecystography depends on how much occlusion was seen. A low-fat diet can help some whose stones are not that pronounced or regularly painful. Others may only find relief after a long regimen of medication or surgical removal.

The presence of gallstones often lead to a cholecystography.
The presence of gallstones often lead to a cholecystography.

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