What is the Treatment for Bile Stones?

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  • Written By: C. Daw
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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A gallstone is a solid stone-like mass that forms inside the gallbladder which is caused by the accumulation of bile. Most of the time these gallstones are small enough that they can be passed through the system and move into the bile duct without causing any serious complications. When these stones are not able to successfully pass through the bile duct and get blocked they are considered to be bile stones, and the majority of them originate in this manner. About ten percent of the people who suffer from gallstones also suffer from bile stones. Although less common, they can also originate in the bile duct and are referred to as primary bile duct stones.

Sometimes bile stones are able to eventually pass on their own without needing any extra treatments. More often the stone creates a blockage and they are much more dangerous than gallstones. A person will know that they have these stones due to the severe abdominal pain that they will experience. When they create an acute blockage, it can cause cholangitis or acute pancreatitis. When this blockage becomes life-threatening, one of the following immediate treatments will be necessary.


Stone dissolving pills are available and are used to shrink the size of the stone so that it is able to safely pass through the bile duct. Over time these pills will work, but the problem is that in most cases, this bile stone treatment does not work fast enough to treat these dangerous problems. Lithotrisy uses sonic waves to break the stones into smaller pieces and is another treatment than can be used, but this takes longer that what is recommended. Surgery is often the only option that is left. The surgery for bile stones is different than surgery for gallstones because the bile duct cannot be removed like the gallbladder.

If the removal of the bile stones is an emergency, then an endoscopic retrograde chlangiopancreatography surgery is performed to remove them. This procedure is done by a gastroenterologist who uses an endoscope to go into the bile duct, opening it to remove the stone. When the bile stones must be removed, but it is not an immediate emergency, a common treatment is the cholecystectomy surgery. Often times the bile stones are treated at the same time the gallstones are so the medical surgeon can perform one, or both, of the above types of surgery. Sometimes they are detected in the bile duct prior to gallbladder surgery, but other times the bile stones are not detected until the surgery is being performed.


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