Healthy Living

What are the Treatment Options for Gallstones?

What are the Treatment Options for Gallstones?

Key Takeaways

  • There are a number of different treatment options for gallstones including surgery and medicine.
  • Like most diseases, prevention is always better than cure and the same goes for gallstones.
  • Living a holistic, healthy lifestyle not only helps in the management of gallstone symptoms, but it also prevents the relapse and recurrence of this condition.

The treatment plan for gallstones depends on each patient’s symptoms. The “active monitoring” system is recommended to people who show no symptoms. No treatment is required in such cases. However, if symptoms appear, it best best to consult your doctor immediately. Most of the time, if you go longer without experiencing any symptoms, it is less likely that your condition will worsen.

However, gallstone treatment is required when you have a high risk of developing complications such as:

  • Cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver is scarred and its functions are compromised.
  • Diabetes is a lifelong disease wherein the body is unable to produce the hormone insulin.
  • Portal hypertension is an alcohol-related liver ailment that results in high blood pressure within the liver.

When high levels of calcium are found in your gallbladder, treatment is immediately recommended as this could possibly develop into gallbladder cancer if left unattended.

In the case of biliary colic (episodes of abdominal pain), you will be given treatment according to the severity of the pain. Painkillers are given when the pain is mild and does not occur frequently. Advice on a healthy diet is also given to help manage the pain. The only time that surgery is advised - removal of the gallbladder - is when the symptoms become more serious and frequent. 

In the event of gallbladder surgery, most people can still live normal and healthy lives since the gallbladder is not an organ per se. Some individuals report cases of bloating or diarrhea when they consume spicy foods. Thus such food types should be avoided whenever possible.

Treatment Options for Gallstones

1. Removal of the gallbladder using keyhole surgery

When surgery has been recommended, a keyhole surgery is performed to remove the gallbladder. This method is called laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

A laparoscope - which is a long narrow telescope with a video camera and a very small light - is inserted through a cut in your abdomen, enabling the surgeon to see the operation on a video monitor. The gallbladder is then removed using this special surgical equipment.

If gallstones are suspected to be in the bile duct, an ultrasound scan or an X-ray of the bile duct is conducted during the operation. Open surgery is considered in some complicated cases. After the removal of the gallbladder, the gas inside your abdomen goes through the laparoscope, after which cuts are closed using dissolvable stitches, and the application of dressings would follow suit.

2. Single-incision keyhole surgery

This is a new method of keyhole surgery used in gallbladder removal. Only one tiny cut is made in this type of keyhole surgery, meaning only one scar that's barely visible will be present after the procedure.

Some uncertainties regarding the single-incision laparoscopic cholecystectomy remain since it is not performed as often as the normal laparoscopic cholecystectomy.  There are also only a few surgeons specializing in this type of surgery.

3. Open surgery

Open surgery is often recommended in the following cases.

  • You are in the last trimester of your pregnancy
  • When you are obese
  • When your bile duct or gallbladder have an unusual form, making a keyhole surgery difficult.

An incision of about 10-15 cm is made in your abdomen, below the ribs, to remove the gallbladder during open cholecystectomy. General aesthetic will be used so no pain should be felt by the patient.

4. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

This type of procedure extracts the gallstones in the bile duct so the gallbladder will not be removed. The removal of gallstones in the gallbladder will require the other surgical procedures discussed above.

ERCP is usually performed with the patient being sedated, meaning you will not feel any pain but you will stay awake throughout the procedure. It takes up to 30 minutes to complete the procedure.

5. Dissolving gallstones by medication   

Ursodeoxycholic acid tablets may be given to dissolve gallstones that are calcium-free and small. They are, however, not prescribed most of the time due to the following reasons:

  • Their chances of being effective are low
  • You will need to take them for a prolonged period of time
  • When you stop taking the medication, gallstones can recur 

How to diet when you have gallstones   

Following a low-fat diet is advised for individuals who cannot undergo surgery. A low-fat diet inhibits the growth of gallstones. This means consuming a well-balanced selection from different food groups, making sure to eat only foods that have moderate fat content on a regular basis. Healthy eating does not treat gallstones, but it improves your overall health and keeps pain, caused by gallstones, under control.

Effective treatment of gallstones

Effective treatment of gallstones means preventing them from recurring or causing further complications. While the methods explained above are necessary to get rid of gallstones, prevention is always, always better than cure. The same principle applies after a gallstone surgery.

To get rid of traces of gallstones, it is important to deal with its symptoms carefully. Once the treatment has been done, a change in routine is mandatory. Avoiding junk food and fatty food is a must. Instead, it’s best to consume a healthy, nutrient-rich diet along with prescribed medication (if any). 

To lower risk of developing gallstones and other diseases, an overall commitment to a healthy lifestyle should be the number one priority. Apart from a well-balanced diet, this includes regular exercise and stress management. In addition, support from family members and friends is imperative in the overall, long-term wellness of an individual. 

Establishing a routine

A treatment is considered effective only when a 360-degree approach to holistic care is adopted. Merely focusing on medicine and surgical procedures, without prioritizing a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle, is not the best option to go. 

In the short-term, treatment could help the patient relieve symptoms but it won’t prevent the occurrence of a relapse of new ailments and other related symptoms. It is essential to consult your doctor for the proper management of weight, pain, and symptoms. 

Aside from these, it is crucial to eat meals at a regular time schedule each day. Skipping meals can cause complications. 

Intensive training and workouts are also not advisable. It is fine to get back to a fitness routine, even better with a doctor or trainer’s guidance. However, it should be done at a slow pace without unnecessarily overexerting the body. 

Establishing a healthy routine - which includes eating a well-balanced diet and starting an exercise program - in conjunction with a physician, dietitian, and fitness trainer will pay dividends in the management and prevention of gallstone diseases. In case any pain, discomfort, or unusual symptoms persist, it’s best to consult your doctor immediately.