Do asymptomatic gallstones (cholelithiasis) require treatment?

Updated: Apr 01, 2019
  • Author: Douglas M Heuman, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Answer

Gallstones may be present in the gallbladder for decades without causing symptoms or complications. In patients with asymptomatic gallstones discovered incidentally, the likelihood of developing symptoms or complications is 1%-2% per year. In most cases, asymptomatic gallstones do not require any treatment.

Because they are common, gallstones often coexist with other gastrointestinal conditions. There is little evidence to support a causal association between gallstones and chronic abdominal pain, heartburn, postprandial distress, bloating, flatulence, constipation, or diarrhea.

Dyspepsia that occurs reproducibly following ingestion of fatty foods is often wrongly attributed to gallstones, when irritable bowel syndrome or gastroesophageal reflux is the true culprit. Gallstones discovered during an evaluation for nonspecific symptoms are usually innocent bystanders, and treatment directed at the gallstones is unlikely to relieve these symptoms.


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