Surgical and nonsurgical management of gallstones

Sherly Abraham, Haidy G. Rivero, Irina V. Erlikh, Larry F. Griffith, Vasantha K. Kondamudi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Cholelithiasis, or gallstones, is one of the most common and costly of all the gastrointestinal diseases. The incidence of gallstones increases with age. At-risk populations include persons with diabetes mellitus, persons who are obese, women, rapid weight cyclers, and patients on hormone therapy or taking oral contraceptives. Most patients are asymptomatic; gallstones are discovered incidentally during ultrasonography or other imaging of the abdomen. Asymptomatic patients have a low annual rate of developing symptoms (about 2% per year). Once symptoms appear, the usual presentation of uncomplicated gallstones is biliary colic, caused by the intermittent obstruction of the cystic duct by a stone. The pain is characteristically steady, is usually moderate to severe in intensity, is located in the epigastrium or right upper quadrant of the abdomen, lasts one to five hours, and gradually subsides. If pain persists with the onset of fever or high white blood cell count, it should raise suspicion for complications such as acute cholecystitis, gallstone pancreatitis, and ascending cholangitis. Ultrasonography is the best initial imaging study for most patients, although additional imaging studies may be indicated. The management of acute biliary colic mainly involves pain control with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or narcotic pain relievers. Oral dissolution therapy is usually minimally successful and used only if the patient cannot undergo surgery. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy remains the surgical choice for symptomatic and complicated gallstones, with a shorter hospital stay and shorter convalescence period than open cholecystectomy. Percutaneous cholecystostomy is an alternative for patients who are critically ill with gallbladder empyema and sepsis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795-802
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Family Physician
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes


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