How Are Gallstones Diagnosed?

While some people have had their gallstones found and the problem diagnosed because their symptoms of severe pain sent them to their doctors, this isn't always the case for diagnosing gallstones. For those individuals who have "silent" gallstones, their condition is usually found when their doctor is testing them for other problems.

Gallstone symptoms are similar to symptoms of a heart attack, appendicitis, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, hiatal hernia, pancreatitis and hepatitis, so tests are needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

Tests Used to Diagnose Gallstones

Gallstones are usually diagnosed by ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of an area inside the body. A hand-held device is moved over an area of the body by a technician. When used to check for gallstones, the sound waves are directed toward the gallbladder, the liver and usually the bile ducts. If there are gallstones, the sound waves will bounce off of them, creating an "echo" that makes electronical impulses that will produce a picture on a monitor.

Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan)
Cholescintigraphy is done by nuclear medicine physicians and can be used to detect an obstruction of the gallbladder, bile ducts or bile leaks. It has also been used to detect abnormal contractions of the gallbladder. The patient is injected intravenously with a radioactive chemical, which is then taken from the bloodstream by the liver and enters the bile.

The chemical then goes where the bile goes: in to the gallbladder, the bile ducts and intestinal tract. Then using a radiation sensitive camera, an image can be seen of where the radioactive bile is moving through.

Blood tests
Blood tests may be used to look for signs of infection or abnormal levels of bilirubin, which can happen if a bile duct is obstructed.

For further information on gallstones:


"Common Gastrointestinal Problems - Gallstones." American College of Gastroenterology. 9 Sep 2008

"Gallstones." American College of Gastroenterology. 9 Sep 2008

"Gallstones." NIH Publication No. 07–2897 July 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 9 Sep 2008

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