Most of the time, surgery is not needed unless symptoms begin. However, people planning weight loss surgery may need to have gallstones removed before undergoing the procedure. In general, patients who have symptoms will need surgery right away or soon after the stone is found.
- A technique called laparoscopic cholecystectomy is most commonly used. This procedure uses small surgical cuts, which allow for a faster recovery. Patients can often go home from the hospital within 1 day of surgery.
- In the past, open cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) was most often done. However, this technique is less common now.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and a procedure called a sphincterotomy may be done to find or treat gallstones in the common bile duct.
Medicines may be given in pill form to dissolve cholesterol gallstones. However, these drugs may take 2 years or longer to work, and the stones may return after treatment ends.
Rarely, chemicals are passed into the gallbladder through a catheter. The chemical rapidly dissolves cholesterol stones. This treatment is hard to perform, so it is not done very often. The chemicals used can be toxic, and the gallstones may return.
Shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) of the gallbladder has also been used for people who cannot have surgery. This treatment is not used as often as it once was because gallstones often come back.