Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

How Can I Deal With Gallstones Without Surgery?

Friday, 11 June 2010 04:39 PM

Question: An abdominal ultrasound showed that I have several small gallstones, which explains excruciating pain and nausea. I researched the Internet for alternatives and found people who said they safely passed gallstones by using a cocktail of olive oil and apple juice and/or Epsom salts and grapefruit. Some say they wish they had known about it before paying from $8,000 to $12,000 for gallbladder surgery.
Does this work? My personal concern is that I already have a compromised immune system from having lymph nodes removed, so I worry about an infection caused by a surgical procedure. Also, if I don't have a gallbladder that filters bacteria before it goes to the liver, am I at risk for some major debilitating problems by having the gallbladder removed?
Dr. Hibberd's Answer:
First of all, let’s settle any questions about expense. I assume you are uninsured. If you have been quoted $8,000-12,000 for this surgery, I recommend you find a surgeon who will remove your gallbladder with a laparoscope (minimally invasive) as an outpatient.
Many patients who are otherwise healthy can have this performed as an outpatient, and be permitted to recuperate at home without the need for hospitalization. The costs are easily 1/4 to 1/3 of the quote you have received, and perhaps less if you are a shrewd shopper. If you wish to know the figure to aim for, obtain the "Medicare Allowable" amount for the planned procedure.
Some surgeons will operate for as little as 85 percent of the “Medicare Allowable” rate, especially if you are honest about your financial circumstances. Be sure to negotiate with the surgical facility in the same fashion. Also, call your local county health office because there are often county funds available to assist uninsured residents.
Second, the gallbladder is only a storage bag for bile and has no role in filtering. Its absence will not place you at risk for infection. While surgical procedures do have some risk for infection, you are generally at far greater risk by waiting.
Third, dissolution of gallstones is possible, but the effects are only transient. The products you describe are not effective for dissolution in the majority of patients. Even after successful dissolution or simple stone removal by other means, the gallstones will recur. Dissolution is used only for those who cannot undergo surgery. Surgical removal remains the mainstay for patients with gallbladder disease and stones.
Fourth, we can live very healthy lives without our gallbladder. Removal usually provides those with pre-existing symptomatic gallbladder disease with a new lease on life.

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