Health Q&A with Dr. Michael Jacobson, D.O.: Gallstones can usually be left alone

From the December 2018 issue of Heartfelt Magazine.

Q: I experienced trouble digesting food and eventually became sick enough that I struggled to keep food down. My primary care physician ordered an ultrasound and diagnosed me with gallstones. A specialist confirmed the gallstones.

My primary care physician said that I could take the wait-and-see approach or have my gallbladder removed. What are the possible risks involved if I wait versus removing it now? If I have the surgery, what physical or metabolic symptoms will my body experience because of not having a gallbladder?

A: The greatest risk of leaving your gallbladder in place is the chance of a stone blocking the bile duct and ensuing infection. This would be a very serious medical emergency (“ascending cholangitis”).

However, there are usually clear warning signs (fever, right upper quadrant pain, etc.) that precede deterioration and treatment is readily available, including hospitalization and antibiotics.

The bottom line is that the vast majority of people who have gallstones live with them for years without any significant complications. In fact, most gallstones are discovered “incidentally.” In other words, a test is run for other reasons and the stones appear on medical imaging but cause no problems.

If you have a health question for Dr. Jacobson, CHM Medical Consultant, please email it. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.

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