What is Involved in a Gallstone Ultrasound?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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In a gallstone ultrasound, a doctor or ultrasound technician will use an ultrasound transducer on the abdomen, creating an image on a display so it can be evaluated for signs of stones. This procedure is not invasive or painful, unless the patient is experiencing extreme abdominal tenderness and the pressure from the transducer causes pain. It can be used to quickly determine if someone has gallstones, allowing a doctor to move forward with diagnosis and treatment.

Gallstones are buildups of material in and around the gallbladder. They can cause blockages, leading to nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. When patients present with these symptoms, doctors can request laboratory analysis of blood and other body fluids to learn more about what is happening, and they may also request a gallstone ultrasound.

Patients will need to either change into a hospital gown or be prepared to pull their shirts up during the gallstone ultrasound. They can usually lie or recline in a chair during the procedure. A small amount of ultrasound gel will be applied to make the image clearer, and the technician will manipulate a transducer against the abdomen. Usually the gel feels cold, and the technician may need to press down hard with the transducer to get a good image, potentially causing temporary discomfort.


Stones are usually very visible on a gallstone ultrasound, and the technician may point them out on the screen if they are present. Patients who are curious can also ask about other structures seen on the screen. It is important to be aware that many people have gallstones and are asymptomatic; the presence of gallstones on an ultrasound doesn't necessarily mean that a patient's symptoms are caused by the stones, only that they are a likely explanation.

After a gallstone ultrasound, the care provider will wipe the abdomen clean to remove the gel, and the patient can go home or proceed to additional testing, depending on recommendations from the doctor. The doctor may propose an endoscopy, where a camera is inserted to get pictures of the inside of the gall bladder. Tools can also be introduced at the same time to extract stones, if necessary. Other options for management of gallstones can include moderating the patient's diet or removing the gallbladder altogether if the patient has recurrent painful stones that do not seem to respond to other treatments. This may also be recommended if infection and extensive tissue death has set in.



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