If gallstones don't cause pain or other symptoms, you most likely will not need treatment. In rare cases, doctors may advise surgery for gallstones that don't cause symptoms. For more information, see the Surgery section of this topic.
If gallstones do cause symptoms, you and your doctor may decide that your best choice is to see whether symptoms go away on their own (watchful waiting). It is usually safe to wait until you have had another attack before you consider having surgery. Watchful waiting may be the best choice if:
This is your first episode of gallstone pain.
Gallstone pain is mild. If your gallstones cause severe pain, more urgent surgery should be considered to prevent future attacks and possible complications.
If you need treatment for gallstones, in most cases the best treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). In many cases, laparoscopic surgery is the best method to remove the gallbladder. Open surgery requires a longer recovery period and causes more pain because it creates a larger incision.
Your doctor can help you assess the severity of your gallstone attacks and can help you decide whether you should have surgery or other treatment.
About 1 out of 3 people with gallstones who have pain or other symptoms do not have another episode.1 But the risks of not treating gallstones include the possibility of infection and jaundice.
About 15% of people who have symptoms from gallstones also have gallstones in the common bile duct.1 Common bile duct stones can cause life-threatening complications. So these stones may need to be removed before or during surgery to remove your gallbladder.
1995-2011 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.