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Gallstones - How do doctors diagnose gallstones?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

A lot of other conditions can cause symptoms like the ones you get with gallstones. Your doctor will examine you and may do some tests to work out what is causing your symptoms.

Here are some things your doctor will do to help tell if you have gallstones.

First, your doctor will ask you questions about the pain:

  • Where does it hurt?

  • How bad is it?

  • How fast does it come on?

  • How long does it last?

  • Does anything bring it on?

  • Does anything make it go away?

Your doctor will also want to know if you've felt sick or thrown up, and about any other symptoms you've had during an attack.

Then you will probably have a physical examination. Your GP may:

  • Look at your abdomen to see if it's stiff or bloated

  • Feel your abdomen to see if it is sore

  • Take your temperature to see if you have a fever

  • Listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope to see if your bowel is making more or less noise than is normal.

If your GP thinks that gallstones may be causing your symptoms, he or she may send you to hospital for tests. This will probably be a routine appointment. It may take a few weeks to come through. Your GP will call you when the results are back.

Or you may be sent to a hospital specialist. This may be a doctor called a gastroenterologist. The specialist can set up your tests and see you for any care you need afterwards.

If your GP thinks your gallstones are causing inflammation of your gallbladder or another problem, you will probably have to go to hospital straight away.

Tests for gallstones

Ultrasound scan

The best test for gallstones is an ultrasound scan.[31][32] This test uses sound waves to make a picture of your insides. You have this test in hospital. It doesn't hurt.

Your doctor or a scanning specialist uses a tool that looks a bit like a microphone. He or she puts it on your abdomen. It sends out and picks up sound waves.

The ultrasound machine turns the sound waves into a picture. The picture shows up on a screen.

If you have stones in your gallbladder or in any of the tubes (ducts) that carry bile, the stones will probably show up in the picture. But very small ones may not show up.

Finding gallstones on your scan doesn't always mean they are the cause of your symptoms. But it will help your doctor work out what is the cause.

Blood tests

For blood tests, a small amount of blood is taken from your arm. Then it is sent to a laboratory.

These tests don't directly tell if you have gallstones. But they can pick up some of the problems that gallstones can cause.

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Last Updated: November 23, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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