Gallstones: should I have my gall bladder removed?

I have gallstones which are causing me chronic pain, but I am finding it difficult to get sensible advice. I have two sets of symptoms. Occasionally I get severe pain on the right side under the rib cage. This has happened only rarely, although it once culminated in an attack of jaundice in which my eyes and skin turned yellow. The other symptoms are more subtle, but still unpleasant: bloating, constipation and colicky pains. The doctors I have seen all recommend surgery to remove the gall bladder. It seems to me that this can only make things worse, as without a gall bladder, the flow of bile won't be regulated. What other treatments, apart from surgery, are possible?

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

The gall bladder is a small sac that stores bile from the liver. The bile is then squirted into the small intestine, where it helps with digestion. It is quite possible to live happily without a gall bladder. Ask anyone who has had their gall bladder removed, and they are likely to tell you that their health is no worse than it was before. When the gall bladder gets full of stones, or even small bits of "gravel", it doesn't contract normally, and this is when pain starts. If the stone blocks the bile duct, jaundice sets in. Modern methods of keyhole surgery are quick and safe, and solve the problem once and for all.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

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