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Gallstones Without Symptoms: When Surgery Is Needed

Topic Overview

Experts disagree about whether the gallbladder should be removed for gallstones that do not cause symptoms. Surgery may be needed if you have:

  • Sickle cell disease.
  • Plans to get an organ transplant (such as a heart or kidney).
  • A high risk of gallbladder cancer (for example, if you are a Pima Indian, have a very large gallstone, or have a calcified gallbladder).

Doctors sometimes recommend surgery for women who are trying to get pregnant. This may be true for a woman who has had symptoms in the past that are believed to be caused by gallstones, and the woman and her doctor are concerned that her symptoms may get worse during pregnancy. They may choose to do surgery to prevent any possible complications, especially if the woman's pregnancy is likely to be high-risk because of other problems.

Most doctors do not recommend that people with diabetes have surgery for gallstones that do not cause symptoms. The risk of surgery in people who have diabetes may be higher than the risk of a gallstone attack. Surgery is recommended after the first occurrence of symptoms.

The gallbladder may be removed during bariatric surgery, even in people who haven't had a problem with gallstones.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised July 10, 2013

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