Removing the gallbladder is the typical treatment for cholelithiasis, or gallstones, explains the National Institutes of Health. This is also known as cholecystectomy. The surgery can be performed with miniaturized instruments and a tiny camera that sends images to a monitor that guides the surgeon.
Another treatment for gallstones is medications that can dissolve the stones, according to Mayo Clinic. This is generally for patients who cannot tolerate gallbladder surgery, and it may take years for this treatment to be effective. Some doctors use a procedure called ERCP, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram, with endoscopic sphincterotomy to remove gallstones, states WebMD. The doctor threads a flexible endoscope down the patient's throat and into his stomach. Once the endoscope is in place, the doctor can examine the common bile duct. If a gallstone is found, it may be possible to remove it via the endoscope.
Doctors can also break up gallstones using ultrasound waves, according to WebMD. This is called lithotripsy. It is usually performed on patients who have had gallstones for a long time and cannot tolerate surgery.
The gallbladder is merely a storage pouch and not a vital organ. After cholecystectomy, bile from the liver simply flows directly into the small intestine, says Mayo Clinic. The patient's digestion is not affected, though he may experience a brief period of diarrhea.