Cholelithiasis: What to Expect at Your Doctor Office Visit

Cholelithiasis, also known as gallstones, is a common disorder that may cause severe symptoms; however, in many cases, it is asymptomatic. Risk factors for cholelithiasis include pregnancy, obesity, family history, and fast weight loss. The symptoms of cholelithiasis can be similar to other health conditions and because of this, a comprehensive physical examination is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Here are some things you can expect from your cholelithiasis medical workup at your next doctor's office visit.

Palpation and Visual Examination

Your physician will palpate your abdomen to assess for organ inflammation and tenderness. The gallbladder is located in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen and if this area feels inflamed during a palpation exam, gallbladder disorders such as cholelithiasis may be present.

Your doctor will also visually inspect your skin and sclerae for jaundice, also called yellowing. Gallbladder disease can raise blood levels of bilirubin, a brownish-yellow substance made in the gallbladder. When gallstones obstruct your bile ducts, bilirubin levels may increase, causing yellow, itchy skin and yellow eyes. You may feel itchy as a result of gallstones because bilirubin is very irritating to the skin. 

Blood, Urine, And Ultrasound Tests

In addition to a physical examination, your doctor may also order lab tests such as a blood chemistry profile and urinalysis. Your blood chemistry profile can detect abnormal bilirubin levels and high liver enzymes which may also be present if you have gallstones. Similarly, a urinalysis may reveal bilirubin in the urine if you have gallbladder disease. Depending upon the results of your lab work, your doctor may also recommend an ultrasound of the gallbladder to check for gallstones or gallbladder enlargement.

Ultrasounds are painless and they capture images of internal organs and other structures by using soundwaves. It is important to note, that if your cholelithiasis workup fails to confirm a gallstone diagnosis, your doctor may recommend further testing. Other disorders such as lung problems, stomach disorders, and orthopedic problems can also cause upper right abdominal pain similar to the pain caused by cholelithiasis.

If you experience right abdominal pain and jaundice, make an appointment with your primary care physician. Once a gallstone diagnosis has been confirmed, your doctor will develop an appropriate treatment plan to alleviate your symptoms. Treatments for gallstones include medications to dissolve them and soundwave lithotripsy, which is a medical procedure that breaks up the gallstones with soundwaves. Once your gallstones have been treated, abdominal pain, jaundice, and itchy skin will also resolve.