If you develop gallstones, you’re at increased risk of infection and other serious complications. The surgeons at Mount Sinai are experts in providing prompt and thorough diagnoses, as well as the best available minimally invasive surgical techniques.
About Gallbladder Disease
The gallbladder is a small organ in the right upper abdomen under the liver. When healthy, it stores some of the bile that is made by the liver. Bile is necessary to digest and absorb the fats in the foods we eat. When there is an imbalance of the chemicals in the bile, gallstones can form.
Patients with gallstone disease, also called cholelithiasis, may experience intermittent right upper abdominal pain that typically starts after a meal, as well as nausea, vomiting, bloating, or fever. If a gallstone travels down the bile duct, you could have liver dysfunction or inflammation in the pancreas, called pancreatitis.
To determine if you have gallstones, you will likely undergo an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to detect gallstones and evaluate the bile ducts. If there are abnormalities in the pancreas or bile ducts, additional imaging tests including a CAT scan or magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), may be necessary. Blood tests can also be helpful if infection or bile duct blockage is suspected.
Treatments for Gallstones
There is no medication that has proven to effectively dissolve gallstones, although following a low-fat diet could help decrease symptoms.
If you have gallstones and symptoms, it is usually recommended that your gallbladder, with all of the stones, be removed. The gallbladder is not a vital organ, and absorption and digestion can continue normally after it is taken out. If you have gallstones and don’t remove your gallbladder, you risk infection of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) or bile duct obstruction leading to pancreatitis.
At Mount Sinai, the standard of care for gallstone disease is laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which is a minimally invasive surgical option for removing the gallbladder. This is a very safe operation in which our highly skilled surgeons make small incisions through which the laparoscope and surgical instruments are inserted. The diseased gallbladder and the stones within it are then removed through one of the incisions.
The benefits of the laparoscopic technique include less pain, shorter hospital stays, faster recovery times, fewer post operative small bowel obstructions, and fewer wound infections. In a small number of patients (less than 5 percent), if excessive scarring is present or the anatomy of the structures is not clear, your surgeon may consider converting the operation to an open surgical operation through a traditional surgical incision.
Mount Sinai surgeons also offer minimally invasive laparoscopic surgical options for common bile duct exploration or stone extraction.