A cholecystectomy is performed to treat cholelithiasis and cholecystitis. In cholelithiasis, gallstones of varying shapes and sizes form from the solid components of bile. The presence of these stones, often referred to as gallbladder disease, may produce symptoms of excruciating right upper abdominal pain radiating to the right shoulder. The gallbladder may become the site of acute infection and inflammation, resulting in symptoms of upper right abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. This condition is referred to as cholecystitis. The surgical removal of the gallbladder can provide relief of these symptoms. Cholecystectomy is used to treat both acute and chronic cholecystitis when there are significant pain symptoms. The typical composition of gallstones is predominately cholesterol, or a compound called calcium bilirubinate.
Most patients with cholelithiasis have no significant physical symptoms. Approximately 80% of gallstones do not cause significant discomfort. Patients who develop biliary colic generally do have some symptoms. When gallstones obstruct the cystic duct, intermittent, extreme, cramping pain typically develops in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. This pain generally occurs at night and can last from a few minutes to several hours. An acute attack of cholecystitis is often associated with the consumption of a large, high-fat meal.
The medical management of gallstones depends to a great degree on the presentation of the patient. Patients with no symptoms generally do not require any medical treatment. The best treatment for patients with symptoms is usually surgery. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is typically preferred over the open surgical approach because of the decreased recovery period. Patients who are not good candidates for either type of surgery can obtain some symptom relief with drugs, especially oral bile salts.
Mark Mitchell, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,