There are several treatments available for gallstones. Each has benefits and drawbacks. It is important for patient and doctor to work together to determine which gallstone treatment makes the most sense for each individual patient.
It is not unusual for gallstones to have no symptoms. If a patient is not suffering from discomfort or other health problems because of gallstones, the doctor may recommend no gallstone treatment. If they begin to cause problems, the doctor can then treat the gallstones using one of several procedures. Surgical removal of the gallbladder is the only proven gallstone treatment that will prevent gallstones from returning, which makes it the preferred treatment method for most patients.
Surgical treatment of gallstones includes the option of laparoscopic surgery or traditional surgery. In laparoscopic surgery the doctor inserts a tube that has a light and camera attached into the patient. The tube is inserted through the abdomen. The camera allows the doctor to easily see inside the abdominal cavity and remove the gallbladder through several other small incisions within the abdominal wall.
Traditional surgery is not as popular of a gallstone treatment as laparoscopic surgery. It involves a large surgical incision in the abdominal wall, which means a long and strenuous recovery period. Traditional surgery is used if the gallbladder is infected or the abdomen has scar tissue from previous surgeries.
Nonsurgical gallstone treatments include several options. Sound wave therapy uses high frequency sound waves to break up the gallstones. You are then given a prescription medication, ursodiol, to dissolve the fragmented gallstones. Some patients are able to bypass sound wave therapy and take ursodiol as treatment for gallstones. This works best if the gallstones are small and are not causing the patient much discomfort.
Two other nonsurgical solutions to gallstones are available. Both involve inserting a catheter before the procedure. In the first, percutaneous electrohydraulic lithotripsy, a catheter is inserted into the gallbladder to send bursts of energy into the gallstones to break them up. This procedure is time-consuming and not widely available. It is generally only used for people who need to avoid surgical procedures.
A relatively new procedure is called topical gallstone dissolution. Medication is delivered into the gallbladder through a catheter. The medication dissolves the gallstones. This treatment shows promise, but is still new enough that it is not widely available.