Diagnosis

Gallstones are sometimes found during tests for different conditions. Gallstones often don't cause any symptoms.

If you do have symptoms of gallstones, make an appointment with your GP so they can try to identify the problem.

Seeing your GP

Your GP will ask about your symptoms. They may carry out a test to find out if your gallbladder is inflamed.

During this test:

  1. Your GP places their hand on the upper-right area of your tummy.
  2. They'll ask you to breathe in
  3. If you find this painful, it usually means you have an inflamed gallbladder. You may then need urgent treatment.

Your GP may also recommend having blood tests. This is to look for signs of infection. The test will also check if your liver is working normally. If gallstones have moved into your bile duct, the liver may not be able to function properly.

Further tests

If your symptoms and test results show you may have gallstones, Your GP will refer you for further tests.

If you have a more serious form of gallbladder disease you might need to go to hospital.

Ultrasound scan

An ultrasound scan can usually confirm if you have gallstones. The scan uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of the body.

The type of ultrasound scans used for gallstones is like the scan used during pregnancy.

This is a painless procedure. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes to complete.

When your GP diagnoses gallstones, it may not be clear if any stones have passed into the bile duct.

Gallstones in the bile duct are sometimes seen during an ultrasound scan. If they're not visible but your tests suggest they may be affecting the bile duct then you may need an MRI scan or a cholangiography.

MRI scan

Your doctor may want to look for gallstones in the bile ducts. To do this you may need a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The MRI scan uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce images of the inside of the body.

Cholangiography

A cholangiography can give further information about the condition of your gallbladder.

A cholangiography uses a dye that shows up on X-rays. Your doctor will inject a dye into your bloodstream or into your bile ducts. They will do this during surgery or using an endoscope passed through your mouth.

If your doctor finds a blockage during this test, they may try to remove it at this point using an endoscope. This is an endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography (ERCP). See treating gallstones for more information about ERCP.

CT scan

Your doctor will take a CT scan to look for any complications of gallstones. This type of scan involves taking a series of X-rays from many different angles.

CT scans are often done in an emergency to diagnose severe abdominal pain.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2020
Next review due: 22 December 2023