Information about Gallstone Symptoms and Gallbladder Removal

Q: I have pain and have been vomiting lately due to gallstones. Do I need to have my gallbladder removed?

A: Gallstones that don't cause any pain can usually be left alone, but there's a 1 to 4 percent chance each year that a symptom-free gallstone will cause problems.

Most likely, your gallstones have migrated from your gallbladder and are blocking your gallbladder neck or the ducts that lead from it to the small intestine. If this obstruction persists, it can cause acute cholecystitis.

Rising pressure inside the gallbladder leads to inflammation, bacterial infection, and, sometimes, a hole in the gallbladder wall. Symptoms of acute cholecystitis include severe pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

Your doctor may use a variety of tests to determine the location and severity of your gallstone obstruction. Once you have one attack, you have a 70 percent chance of another one.

An obstructed gallbladder that goes untreated can become infected or rupture. Most gallstones that are symptomatic will need to be removed through a cholecystectomy. Nearly all cholecystectomies are performed by laparoscopy, which decreases pain following surgery and allows for a faster recovery than open surgery.

If your gallstones are in the bile ducts, a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) can be used to extract the stones. However, gallstones are often still present in the gallbladder, so it will still need to be removed.

Publication Review By: H. Franklin Herlong, M.D.

Published: 30 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 05 Jan 2015