Choledocholithiasis is the presence of at least one gallstone in the common bile duct. The stone may be made up of bile pigments or calcium and cholesterol salts.
Gallstone in the bile duct; Bile duct stone
About 1 in 7 people with gallstones will develop stones in the common bile duct. This is the small tube that carries bile from the gallbladder to the intestine.
Risk factors include a history of gallstones. However, choledocholithiasis can occur in people who have had their gallbladder removed.
Often, there are no symptoms unless the stone blocks the common bile duct. Symptoms may include:
- Pain in the right upper or middle upper abdomen for at least 30 minutes. The pain may be constant or cramping. It can feel sharp or dull.
- Yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Clay-colored stools
Exams and Tests
Tests that show the location of stones in the bile duct include the following:
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (ERCP)
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
- Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTCA)
Your health care provider may order the following blood tests:
The goal of treatment is to relieve the blockage.
Treatment may involve:
- Surgery to remove the gallbladder and stones
- ERCP and a procedure called a sphincterotomy, which makes a surgical cut into the muscle in the common bile duct to allow stones to pass or be removed
Blockage and infection caused by stones in the biliary tract can be life threatening. Most of the time, the outcome is good if the problem is detected and treated early.
Complications may include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if:
- You develop abdominal pain, with or without fever, and there is no known cause.
- You develop jaundice.
- You have other symptoms of choledocholithiasis.
Fogel EL, Sherman S. Diseases of the gallbladder and bile ducts. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 155.
Jackson PG, Evans SRT. Biliary system. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 54.
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.