Your doctor can start to diagnose gallstones or gallbladder disease by reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination. You should tell your doctor about your symptoms and risk factors. Your doctor may test your blood and urine to help confirm the diagnoses and rule out other diseases with similar symptoms. Your doctor may conduct a series of imaging tests to identify the presence of gallstones or inflammation. Imaging tests are painless and simply require that you remain motionless while pictures are taken. Commonly used tests include abdominal ultrasound, abdominal X-ray, oral cholecystogram, abdominal CT scan, gallbladder radionuclide scan, and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
An abdominal ultrasound is used to provide images of your abdominal organs including your gallbladder, liver, pancreas, and spleen. An abdominal ultrasound is useful for identify gallstones, infection, inflammation, or organ enlargement. To take an ultrasound, a technician will gently move and place a small device across your abdomen. The device transmits sound waves to a monitor for viewing.
An abdominal X-ray is used to find a mass or gallstone. An oral cholecystogram (OCG) involves using a dye to enhance the X-ray images. The dye is safe and swallowed before the X-ray is taken. Abdominal ultrasound and OCG are considered to be excellent methods for identifying gallstones.
An abdominal CT scan is used to examine the gallbladder and bile ducts. It can show gallstones, blockages, and other structural complications. A CT scan takes pictures in slices that together, compose a full picture of the abdomen. A CT scan shows more detail than an X-ray.
A gallbladder radionuclide scan, also called a Cholescintigraphy (HIDA scan), is used to check gallbladder function and identifying acute gallbladder infection or blocked bile ducts. For the test, a radioactive substance is injected into a vein. The substance pools in the liver and flows into the gallbladder, as bile would. Scanning reveals the route of the substance on images.
An ERCP uses an endoscope to view the biliary system. An endoscope is a thin tube with a light and a viewing instrument at the end of it. After sedation, a thin tube is passed through your mouth and into your small intestines. It can administer dye to enhance views. In some cases, it is used for surgery to remove a gallstone.