If gallstones are suspected, doctors use a variety of techniques to diagnose them. Getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial before treatment can be started.
So, what can you expect from gallstone diagnosis? Here’s what you need to know about how gallstones are diagnosed.
Assessing Your Symptoms and Family History
The first thing that’s going to happen when you see your doctor is that they will assess your symptoms and family history. One of the risk factors of gallstones is a family history. So, if your parents had it for example, the doctor will know you have an increased risk.
They may need to give you a physical examination to check whether the gallbladder is inflamed. This involves placing their hands on the upper right of the tummy before asking you to take a breath in. If it is painful, it is a sign you have gallstones.
However, this simple test alone may not be enough to diagnose the condition. In most cases, further tests are needed.
The Tests Used to Diagnose Gallstones
There are a variety of tests used to diagnose gallstones. These include:
- Ultrasound scans
- Lab tests
- MRI scan
- CT scan
Ultrasound scans create an image of inside the body using high frequency sound waves. To detect gallstones, an ultrasound scan similar to the one carried out for pregnancy is used. A small device will be placed on the upper abdomen, before sound waves are sent through the skin to produce an image of the organs. An ultrasound scan takes around 10-15 minutes.
Lab tests can also detect gallstones. A blood test will potentially show signs of inflammation or infection in the gallbladder, bile ducts, liver or pancreas.
An MRI scan can look for signs of gallstones in the biliary tract ducts. It uses magnets and radio waves to produce an image of inside the body. A CT scan on the other hand, uses both computer technology and x-rays to create an image of the gallbladder, pancreas and bile ducts. It will clearly show if there is a blockage or infection. The only thing to remember with a CT scan is that it doesn’t always identify gallstones you may have.
Otherwise known as a hydroxy iminodiacetic acid scan, a cholescintigraphy produces images of the biliary tract using safe radioactive material. A tiny amount of radioactive material is injected into the vein. They may also inject a substance which is known to squeeze the gallbladder. A specialized camera then takes photos of the material as it starts to pass through the biliary tract. It picks up any abnormal contractions of the gallbladder, alongside blockages of the bile ducts.
These are the main tests used to diagnose gallstones. You won’t need to undergo every test mentioned. Your doctor will request testing based upon the symptoms you described.
Getting a diagnosis for gallstones doesn’t take long. So, if you suspect you do have them, book an appointment with your doctor to start the diagnosis process.