Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor suspects you may have gallstones, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the digestive system (gastroenterologist) or to an abdominal surgeon.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of information to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For gallstones, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- Are gallstones the likely cause of my abdominal pain?
- What are other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- Is there a chance that my gallstones will go away without treatment?
- Do I need gallbladder removal surgery?
- What are the risks of surgery?
- How long does it take to recover from gallbladder surgery?
- Are there other treatment options for gallstones?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow more time to cover other points you want to address. Your doctor may ask:
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- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Are your symptoms related to eating?
- Have your symptoms ever included fever?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- How long do your symptoms last?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Gallstones. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gallstones/index.htm. Accessed May 13, 2013.
- Understanding gallstones. American Gastroenterological Association. http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/gallstones. Accessed May 13, 2013.
- Choi Y, et al. Biliary tract disorders, gallbladder disorders and gallstone pancreatitis. American College of Gastroenterology. http://www.acg.gi.org/patients/gihealth/biliary.asp. Accessed May 13, 2013.
- Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-6189-2..X0001-7--TOP&isbn=978-1-4160-6189-2&about=true&uniqId=229935664-2192. Accessed May 13, 2013.
- What are the risk factors for gallbladder cancer? American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/gallbladdercancer/detailedguide/gallbladder-risk-factors. Accessed May 17, 2013.