Gallstones are hard, pebble-like pieces of material that form in the gallbladder. Most gallstones do not cause symptoms. If they do, a person may require treatment. A doctor may prescribe bile salt tablets to help dissolve gallstones.
Gallstones often form from cholesterol or bilirubin in the gallbladder. They can range in size and may eventually block a bile duct. If a blockage occurs, a person may experience sudden, severe pain in the upper right abdomen.
Gallstones are very common and affect about
In some cases, a doctor
This article discusses bile salts, types of bile salt tablets that may help with gallstones, other treatment methods, and more.
Bile salts are a naturally occurring substance present in bile. The liver produces bile and then releases it into the gallbladder. This organ helps concentrate and store the bile until the hormone cholecystokinin stimulates its release through the bile ducts and into the small intestine. The bile salts and acid help digest fats by breaking them down into smaller sizes.
Without bile salts, a person’s body would not be able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Additionally, the liver transforms cholesterol into bile acids, which helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
The gallbladder only releases about
Bile salt tablets are synthetic forms of bile acid that a doctor may prescribe to help treat gallstones.
Doctors may prescribe ursodeoxycholic acid or ursodiol for cholesterol gallstones. The medication comes in
The tablets may help with some gallstones that are about 20 millimeters (mm) or less or in helping prevent gallstone formation in people with obesity.
Though generally well-tolerated, ursodiol may cause some side effects, such as:
Less commonly, it could cause depression or hypersensitivity reactions. Additionally, healthcare professionals may monitor people taking ursodiol for liver issues and toxicity.
While some people may find ursodiol helpful, experts indicate that the medication has, at best,
Chenodiol is another type of bile acid that the body produces naturally and that a doctor may prescribe for gallstones. The medication comes in 250 mg tablets.
Side effects of chenodiol may include:
- abdominal bloating
- nausea and vomiting
- gastrointestinal upset with diarrhea
- abdominal cramps
Doctors tend to prescribe ursodiol instead of chenodiol as people typically tolerate ursodiol better. Also, chenodiol only has about a
A person may be able to go home the same day as laparoscopic cholecystectomy, but they will typically require a hospital stay if they have open cholecystectomy.
If a person cannot have surgery, a doctor may recommend endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) in certain cases. For example, a healthcare professional may remove a gallstone stuck in the common bile duct during ERCP.
Another option doctors may recommend is shock wave lithotripsy. This procedure helps break up larger gallstones. Doctors may use the procedure in conjunction with ursodiol.
In some cases, gallstones may cause complications such as:
- gallbladder inflammation
- gallstone pancreatitis
- gallbladder, bile duct, or liver infection
- severe damage to the liver, gallbladder, or bile ducts
People should speak with a healthcare professional if they think they may be experiencing any of the conditions above. In some cases, gallstones can be fatal if a person does not receive treatment.
Bile salt tablets may help break up or dissolve gallstones. However, research indicates that they are not particularly effective. The most common treatment for gallstones is to removal of the gallbladder.
Many people tolerate bile salt tablets, but they may increase the risk of liver toxicity. They may also cause mild to severe side effects such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue.
A healthcare professional can recommend which treatments may work best for people on an individual basis.