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Is gallbladder stone treatment without surgery possible?

The gallbladder is a small organ that sits below the liver in the upper right side of our abdomen. The gallbladder stores bile, a greenish-yellow liquid that helps digestion. The solid structures that form within the gallbladder are known as gallstones. Most gallstones are caused due to increased concentrations of cholesterol in the bile. The other causes for gallstones include increased bilirubin in the bile or failed periodical emptying of the bile from the gallbladder.

Treatment of gallstones is not necessary until symptoms are seen. If you have been experiencing sudden and radiating pain in the right side of the abdomen, the doctor will most likely recommend surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). But is there a way to treat gallstone without undergoing surgery?

Yes! Here are some of the non-surgical treatment approaches for gallstones. These treatment methodologies are recommended only if your body is not fit for surgery at all.

  • Acid pills: Chemicals such as ursodiol and chenodiol can be used to dissolve the gallstones. These chemicals are available as oral tablets. These medicines help in thinning the bile which causes the gallstones to dissolve. But this method is effective only in patients with small gallstones that are composed of cholesterol. So if a patient has a mixture of both Cholesterol and pigment stone, also called mixed stones, this method is not fully effective.
  • Extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy: This method (ECSWL) is another non-surgical treatment that can break-down or fragment the stones into smaller pieces using shock waves. This treatment is more commonly used to treat kidney stones but it can also be used to treat gallstones. In this treatment method, it is assumed that the broken gallstones will pass through the ducts and exit the gallbladder. The two disadvantages of this method are while passing the duct, the broken-down stones can get stuck and can cause complications and the gallstone recurrence is also higher.
  • Treatment with MTBE injection: MTBE is a solvent that stands for Methyl-Tertiary- Butyl- Ether. In this treatment, the MTBE solvent is injected into the gallbladder to dissolve gallstones. Several research studies have shown that MTBE dissolves gallstones rapidly. But treatment with MTBE can have several side effects along with complications. MTBE generates fumes if not administered properly and can cause a severe burning sensation for the patient. Due to these strong side effects, the MTBE injection method is not popular anywhere.

Before considering these treatment options, please consult with your surgeon to know if you are eligible for these treatment options. It needs to be understood that Cholecystectomy or Gallbladder removal surgery is the gold standard treatment option for treating symptomatic patients with gallstones.

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