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Cholelithiasis: Presentation and Management

Amber Littlefield, Christy Lenahan
Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health 2019, 64 (3): 289-297
Cholelithiasis affects approximately 15% of the US population. Rising trends in obesity and metabolic syndrome have contributed to an increase in diagnosis of cholelithiasis. There are several risk factors for cholelithiasis, both modifiable and nonmodifiable. Women are more likely to experience cholelithiasis than are men. Pregnancy, increasing parity, and obesity during pregnancy further increase the risk that a woman will develop cholelithiasis. The classic presentation of persons experiencing cholelithiasis, specifically when gallstones obstruct the common bile duct, is right upper quadrant pain of the abdomen that is often elicited upon palpation during physical examination and documented as a positive Murphy's sign. Referred pain to the right supraclavicular region and/or shoulder, nausea, and vomiting are also frequently reported by persons with cholelithiasis. Cholelithiasis can result in complications, including cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) and cholangitis (inflammation of the bile duct). Lack of physical examination findings does not rule out a diagnosis of cholelithiasis. Laboratory tests such as white blood cell count, liver enzymes, amylase, and lipase may assist the clinician in diagnosing cholelithiasis; however, ultrasonography is the gold standard for diagnosis. Management is dependent on severity and frequency of symptoms. Lifestyle and dietary modifications combined with medication management, such as use of gallstone dissolution agents, may be recommended for persons who have a single symptomatic episode. If symptoms become severe and/or are recurrent, laparoscopic cholecystectomy is recommended. It is recommended that individuals with an established diagnosis of cholelithiasis be referred to a surgeon and/or gastroenterologist within 2 weeks of initial presentation regardless of severity or frequency of symptoms.

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