Gallstones are pieces of solid matter that form in the gallbladder, a pear-shaped organ that stores bile, a brown liquid that is made by the liver and used to digest food. They range in size from a grain of sand to a large marble, and the gallbladder can contain hundreds of these stones.
Gallstone extraction is the process of removing gallstones that have traveled from the gallbladder into the bile ducts that carry bile to the small intestine. Surgery to remove the gallbladder itself is often recommended for patients with gallstones in the gallbladder.
A gallstone that sticks in the main bile duct (which carries bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine), can lead to a serious infection, or inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). This requires immediate medical attention.
To relieve symptoms from a bile duct stone, a doctor will use endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to remove the gallstone.
You will be given medicine to numb your throat, and a mild sedative to relax you. A small device will help keep your mouth open during the procedure. You should feel no pain, and have no trouble breathing, as the doctor gently inserts the endoscope - a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and light at the tip - through your mouth and into your throat. He or she will slowly guide the endoscope down the esophagus (swallowing tube), past the stomach, and into the first part of the small intestine. Because the scope uses air to advance itself and create better images, you may feel like you have eaten a large meal.
When the doctor locates the affected bile duct, he or she uses an instrument on the endoscope to cut the duct. The doctor captures the gallstone in a tiny basket, which is then removed with the endoscope.
The procedure takes 30 to 90 minutes to perform and is usually painless.
You will need some time in the recovery room for the effects of the pain medication to wear off. You will not be alert enough to drive on your own, so make sure a family member or friend can take you home. Plan on resting for the remainder of the day, and eat lightly at first. Minor symptons such as gas or bloating will disappear within 24 hours.
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