Choledocholithiasis is the presence of a gallstone in the common bile duct. The stone may consist of bile pigments or calcium and cholesterol salts.
About 15% of people with gallstones will develop stones in the common bile duct, the small tube that carries bile from the gallbladder to the intestine. Symptoms are usually not present unless obstruction of the common bile duct occurs. Even after the gallbladder is removed, a stone may remain in or develop in the common bile duct causing pain or jaundice.
Complete, persistent obstruction of the common bile duct can cause cholangitis, a life threatening infection of the biliary tree, which is a medical emergency. An obstruction of the common bile duct can also lead to an obstruction of the pancreatic duct, which may cause pancreatitis.
Risk factors include a previous medical history of cholelithiasis (gallstones).
- Abdominal pain in the upper right quadrant or the middle of the upper abdomen
- May radiate to the right shoulder
- May be sharp or cramping or dull
- May be recurrent
- May radiate to the back
- Made worse by eating fatty or greasy foods
- Occurs within minutes following meals
- Loss of appetite
Tests that show the location of stones in the bile duct include the following:
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiography)
- MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography)
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTCA)
Other blood tests that may be affected include the following:
The goal of treatment is to relieve the obstruction in the common bile duct. Surgical removal of the gallbladder and the stones (via either an open procedure or a laparoscopic procedure) is one option. Another possibility is removal of the stones by ERCP and sphincterotomy (an incision into the sphincter muscle of the duct).
Bile-duct blockage and infection caused by stones in the biliary tract can be a life-threatening illness. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, the outcome is usually very good.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if abdominal pain with or without fever develops that is not attributable to other causes, if jaundice develops, or if other symptoms suggestive of choledocholithiasis occur.
Reviewed By: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Jefferson Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.