Bile Duct Stones

Our gastroenterologists provide expert care with access to advanced technologies

The bile duct carries bile (a fluid that helps with digestion) from your liver to your gallbladder and intestine.

Bile duct stones (choledocholithiasis) or gallbladder stones consist of bile pigments or calcium and cholesterol salts that cause problems when they become lodged in your bile duct.

Often, bile duct stones pass through your body on their own without you ever knowing you had one. But in some cases, they lead to blockages, infections, inflammation and serious or even life-threatening problems. Physicians at Indiana University Health provide prompt diagnosis and effective treatment to improve your chances of a full recovery.

Bile duct stones can form in the bile duct (primary) or in the gallbladder (secondary). Secondary bile duct stones are the more common type in the United States and affect about 15 percent of people who have gallstones.

Symptoms

Symptoms of bile duct stones can include:

  • Pain in the right upper abdomen
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)

Risk Factors

Risk factors for bile duct stones include:

  • History of gallstones
  • Age 40 and above
  • Female
  • Obese and losing weight rapidly
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Diabetes
  • Infections of the bile tract
  • Genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia

Overview

Often, bile duct stones pass through your body on their own without you ever knowing you had one. But in some cases, they lead to blockages, infections, inflammation and serious or even life-threatening problems. Physicians at Indiana University Health provide prompt diagnosis and effective treatment to improve your chances of a full recovery.

Bile duct stones can form in the bile duct (primary) or in the gallbladder (secondary). Secondary bile duct stones are the more common type in the United States and affect about 15 percent of people who have gallstones.

Symptoms

Symptoms of bile duct stones can include:

  • Pain in the right upper abdomen
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)

Risk Factors

Risk factors for bile duct stones include:

  • History of gallstones
  • Age 40 and above
  • Female
  • Obese and losing weight rapidly
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Diabetes
  • Infections of the bile tract
  • Genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia

Our gastroenterologists deliver comprehensive care for bile duct stones using the most advanced techniques and equipment.

IU Health physicians use a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to identify bile duct stones and other conditions in your bile duct and gallbladder, liver and pancreas. When ERCP procedures for large or difficult to remove bile duct stones don’t succeed at other medical facilities, physicians refer them to IU Health.

Our affiliation with Indiana University School of Medicine and the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology sets us apart from other centers. IU Health physicians work within a multidisciplinary program to coordinate your care with expert surgeons, radiologists and other specialists. We conduct research to improve care for a variety of digestive conditions and we take an active role in training the next generation of physicians.

Part of your diagnosis and treatment for bile duct stones may include the following procedures and services:

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Using the endoscope, radiologic imaging and a variety of accessories your doctor can perform a biopsy, study any abnormalities that were seen on imaging tests and deliver treatment to the affected area. Learn more about ERCP.

Sphincterotomy

You receive this procedure at the same time as ERCP. Your physician cuts the muscular sphincter of your bile duct or pancreatic duct, allowing stones to be removed more easily. To expand the opening, a small incision is made with an electrical current that cauterizes (burns) tissue.

Stone Removal

After a sphincterotomy, stones may pass on their own. However, your physician can also remove bile duct stones with a special basket or use an inflatable balloon to sweep the duct.

Additionally, larger stones may need to be crushed before being removed. In this process, called mechanical lithotripsy, the stones are smashed by a steel sheath. Another method, electrohydraulic lithotripsy, uses a probe to break up the stones via sound waves, generated by electricity.

Stent Placement

Once your blocked or narrowed duct is widened, your physician can place a stent (a small plastic or metal tube) in the duct to keep it open. This can help with duct drainage.

Cholecystectomy

This surgery involves removing the gallbladder, a non-essential organ. The traditional “open” version of this procedure often requires a hospital stay of four days or more plus four weeks or more of recovery at home.

A laparoscopic (minimally invasive) version uses smaller incisions (cuts) and generally allows you to go home the same day or the next day.

Treatment

Our gastroenterologists deliver comprehensive care for bile duct stones using the most advanced techniques and equipment.

IU Health physicians use a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to identify bile duct stones and other conditions in your bile duct and gallbladder, liver and pancreas. When ERCP procedures for large or difficult to remove bile duct stones don’t succeed at other medical facilities, physicians refer them to IU Health.

Our affiliation with Indiana University School of Medicine and the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology sets us apart from other centers. IU Health physicians work within a multidisciplinary program to coordinate your care with expert surgeons, radiologists and other specialists. We conduct research to improve care for a variety of digestive conditions and we take an active role in training the next generation of physicians.

Part of your diagnosis and treatment for bile duct stones may include the following procedures and services:

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Using the endoscope, radiologic imaging and a variety of accessories your doctor can perform a biopsy, study any abnormalities that were seen on imaging tests and deliver treatment to the affected area. Learn more about ERCP.

Sphincterotomy

You receive this procedure at the same time as ERCP. Your physician cuts the muscular sphincter of your bile duct or pancreatic duct, allowing stones to be removed more easily. To expand the opening, a small incision is made with an electrical current that cauterizes (burns) tissue.

Stone Removal

After a sphincterotomy, stones may pass on their own. However, your physician can also remove bile duct stones with a special basket or use an inflatable balloon to sweep the duct.

Additionally, larger stones may need to be crushed before being removed. In this process, called mechanical lithotripsy, the stones are smashed by a steel sheath. Another method, electrohydraulic lithotripsy, uses a probe to break up the stones via sound waves, generated by electricity.

Stent Placement

Once your blocked or narrowed duct is widened, your physician can place a stent (a small plastic or metal tube) in the duct to keep it open. This can help with duct drainage.

Cholecystectomy

This surgery involves removing the gallbladder, a non-essential organ. The traditional “open” version of this procedure often requires a hospital stay of four days or more plus four weeks or more of recovery at home.

A laparoscopic (minimally invasive) version uses smaller incisions (cuts) and generally allows you to go home the same day or the next day.

Patient Stories for Bile Duct Stones

Clinical Trials

Learn more about IU Health clinical research studies and find resources for more information about local trials.

PubMed Health

This U.S. government website explains the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of bile duct stones in patient-friendly terms.

Medline Plus

This National Institute of Health website provides information about causes, symptoms, diagnostic tests and treatments for bile duct stones.

Resources

Clinical Trials

Learn more about IU Health clinical research studies and find resources for more information about local trials.

PubMed Health

This U.S. government website explains the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of bile duct stones in patient-friendly terms.

Medline Plus

This National Institute of Health website provides information about causes, symptoms, diagnostic tests and treatments for bile duct stones.