Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease

If you have a gallstone or gallbladder disease, it is reassuring to know that expert care is nearby for people in southern Michigan. At Henry Ford Health System, our specialists provide comprehensive treatment for these conditions to help give you the relief you need.

Expert care for gallbladder disease

We use a multidisciplinary approach in managing gallbladder and gallstone disease. Our skilled gastroenterologists (physicians who specialize in care for diseases of the digestive system) as well as our surgical colleagues have years of education and training in treating gallbladder and gallstone disease. From diagnosis through treatment and follow-up, our physicians, nurses and support team are with you every step of the way.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are hard deposits that form in the gallbladder and bile duct from excess cholesterol and other substances. They vary in size from small specks to very large stones. In many cases, gallstones are small and cause little to no discomfort or other symptoms and may not require procedures or surgeries.

Risk factors for gallstones

Although anyone can develop gallstones, women tend to be more at risk. Other people who may be at a high risk for gallstones and gallbladder disease include:

  • Elderly people
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are overweight, especially those who are losing weight (such as after weight loss/bariatric surgery)
  • People of Native American ancestry
  • People who have a family history of gallstones

Symptoms of gallstones

As gallstones grow, they can interfere with the gallbladder’s ability to store bile and send it to the liver. Common symptoms of a gallstone include:

  • Long-term or intermittent abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored stool

Complications of gallstones

If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your physician. If left untreated, gallstones can lead to complications such as:

  • Cholecystitis: An infection in the gallbladder can cause pain and fever, possibly requiring surgery.
  • Cholangitis: An infection in the bile duct system that can be a medical emergency
  • Gallstone pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas, caused by a gallstone, can block the pancreas duct and/or bile duct and prevent pancreatic enzymes from flowing to the small intestine.
  • Liver damage: Complications from gallstones and gallbladder disease can lead to damage to the liver, including failure.

Diagnosing gallstone and gallbladder disease

At Henry Ford, our gastroenterologists and their teams perform a thorough evaluation to confirm a diagnosis of gallstones and gallbladder disease.

Find out more about screenings and diagnosis for gallbladder disease, including these diagnostic tools:

  • Ultrasound: This technology uses sound waves to create an image of your gallbladder.
  • X-ray: This tool uses radiation waves to produce images of the gallbladder and any gallstones.
  • CT scan: This imaging study can view the entire abdomen and evaluate for bile duct infection and obstruction, gallbladder infection/obstruction as well as pancreatitis.
  • MRI: This imaging study can also view the entire abdomen for bile duct and gallbladder infection/obstruction as well as pancreatitis.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): This endoscopy procedure is used to evaluate with great detail the bile duct and pancreas for evidence of gallstones and bile duct/gallbladder obstruction as well as the pancreas.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This endoscopic procedure can be employed for relieving a bile duct or gallbladder obstruction due to gallstones and is the mainstay of therapy if infection in the biliary system is present (cholangitis).

Our treatment options for gallstones and gallbladder disease

At Henry Ford, our team of experts uses the latest, most advanced treatment options for gallbladder disease and gallstones. We develop a personalized treatment plan for you that may include:

  • Oral medication: We may prescribe medications that can dissolve gallstones. Although it may take months for a gallstone to dissolve, your symptoms clear up quickly.
  • Endoscopic therapies (EUS and ERCP): These procedures allow for accurate, minimally invasive and effective diagnosis and treatment of gallbladder and gallstone disease and may allow for more invasive surgical approaches in some settings.
  • Surgery: Your best option may be minimally invasive surgery to remove the gallbladder.
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