How is cholelithiasis treated?

Treatment of cholelithiasis begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine if you have cholelithiasis, your health care provider may ask you to provide blood samples and undergo diagnostic tests.

Some people with cholelithiasis never have any symptoms. If you have symptoms of cholelithiasis, you may be hospitalized and given antibiotics to prevent an infection. Food intake is normally stopped, and intravenous fluids are administered to let the digestive system rest. You may also receive medication for the abdominal pain associated with cholelithiasis.

If you have recurrent episodes of cholelithiasis, the most common treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). There are two methods for this surgery: open cholecystectomy, when the whole organ is removed through a single incision; and laparoscopic cholecystectomy, when the gallbladder is removed in pieces through several smaller incisions. The laparoscopic technique is now used more frequently. Because the gallbladder is not an essential organ, most people who have had a cholecystectomy can live a normal life afterwards.

Treatment options for cholelithiasis

Several treatment options are now available for cholelithiasis. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is currently the most frequently used technique. Options include:

  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), an imaging procedure that allows treatment of some bile duct problems, including removal of gallstones that are causing obstruction
  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder through multiple small incisions; this is less invasive and a more commonly used technique)
  • Lithotripsy (technique that uses electric shock waves to dissolve gallstones; it is not commonly used today)
  • Medication to dissolve gallstones (this treatment takes a long time, and gallstones may recur)
  • Open cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder through a single, large incision; this is a more invasive and less commonly used technique)

What are the potential complications of cholelithiasis?

Cholelithiasis may cause serious complications if gallstones lodge in the common bile duct, which is the large duct formed where the major gallbladder bile duct joins the major liver bile duct. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of cholelithiasis include:

  • Acute cholecystitis (sudden inflammation of the gallbladder)
  • Cholangitis (an infection or inflammation of the common bile duct)
  • Choledocholithiasis (gallstone in the common bile duct)
  • Pancreatitis (infection or inflammation of the pancreas)


  1. Gallstones. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).
  2. Gallstones. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH
  3. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy.Philadelphia: Saunders, 2012.
  4. Festi D, Reggiani ML, Attili AF, et al. Natural history of gallstone disease: Expectant management or active treatment? Results from a population-based cohort study. J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2010; 25:719.

What is cholelithiasis?

Cholelithiasis is the medical name for hard deposits (gallstones) that may form in the gallbladder. Cholelithiasis is common in the United States population. Six percent of adult men and 10% of adult women are affected.

The cause of cholelithiasis is not completely understood, but it is thought to have... Read more about cholelithiasisintroduction


What are the symptoms of cholelithiasis?

Cholelithiasis may cause irritation and inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) that can result in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals.

Common symptoms of cholelithiasis

You may experience cholecystitis symptoms daily or just once in a while. At times, any of these common symptoms can be severe:


What causes cholelithiasis?

In most cases, cholelithiasis is caused by excessive amounts of cholesterol in the bile that is stored in the gallbladder. The cholesterol hardens to form stone-like substances. Increased body weight and older age are associated with increased levels of cholesterol in the bile. Thus, gallstones are more likely to occur in women, in people who are obese, and in older individuals.

S... Read more about cholelithiasiscauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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